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April/May 2019 – upcoming jazz gigs – a massive Barbican celebration of London jazz from the Total Refreshment Centre (13th April); the Steam Down collective hit Shoreditch (24th April); Warmer Than Blood in London and Cardiff (22nd April, 21st May)

10 Apr

When landlords and developers mark a city building for extra, blander profit – and when they put the squeeze on an existing tenant – they don’t only change and narrow the future, they can also asphyxiate the past. I don’t mean that they somehow delete what’s come before, it’s more that they pinch it off and remove its potential for continuance. The meaning that’s associated with a building and what goes on inside it, its history, becomes obscured to people who’ve not had the chance to discover it yet; or to people who might, in the future, grow up nearby never knowing what used to take place there.

For myself, I feel pretty damn ignorant for not having known about Hackney music space Total Refreshment Centre until, ooh, last year. It seems that, in various forms, it harboured and encouraged music for at least half of my lifetime, curating the historical while encouraging the current and never losing touch of the ethos that music should be inherent to and conversant with its community rather than being a little rarified enclave. The fact that sometime, quietly, last summer, the TRC was forced to shut down (presumably to make way for luxury flats or something which can generate a greater ground rent) makes me angry. Fortunately, the place is resilient enough as an idea – effectively, as a movement – not to rely entirely on bricks and mortar. Scheduled gigs have continued (still run by the existing team but moved to other venues), the programs still run; the concept of the place still has legs.

In some respects the people involved with the TRC are making a virtue of their new and more itinerant existence, using it to spread the word a little wider; extending their ongoing work in what ‘Clash Music’ has called “a means of pursing social engineering, a way to build communities up at a time when the political establishment seem content to break communities apart… Music can be used to re-imagine your surroundings, to transform concrete, glass, and brick into something magical.” Still, it must make life a little tougher, a little more challenging, that much more of a forced hack at a time when it’s already pretty exhausting.

With that in mind, it’s good to see that the TRC gets its own jazz tribute – more accurately, its own self-propelled celebratory showcase – this coming weekend at one of London’s more inviolable culture fortresses, the Barbican. There’s an opportunity here to carp about centralization, or about how certain establishments are protected while others are not (and for distasteful reasons – race and class also have a role to play here), but let’s just sound the obvious note here and move on. Better to bounce back and roll on as the TRC are doing; better to celebrate the recognition and cooperation which such a show also represents.

There are still a few tickets available for what’s promising to be one of the events of the London jazz year. Blurb follows:

“Total Refreshment Centre is part and parcel of east London’s recent music history. The building’s musical journey started as a Caribbean social club and studio and evolved into the musical hub that it is today. On April 13th, the Barbican Centre will host Dreaming The City, celebrating a previously untold story in east London’s music history. To mark nearly thirty years of influential music in the building, TRC has teamed up with Boiler Room – the revered global music broadcasting platform – who will broadcast the gig live.

“The concept of the show is a live mixtape exploring three decades of musical excellence that took place inside an Edwardian warehouse in Hackney. The building began life as a confectionary factory and by the 1990s had become Mellow Mix, a Caribbean social club and rehearsal space. In 2012 it began running as Total Refreshment Centre, an influential studio and venue that has played an integral role in the upsurge of new London jazz, which is now gathering worldwide attention. The narrative of ‘Dreaming The City’ is inspired by the history of this building, made special by the communities that inhabited it over the years. This story, researched by writer Emma Warren, is explored fully in her new book, ‘Make Some Space: Tuning Into Total Refreshment Centre (And All Places Like It)‘.

“Over thirty musicians from the thriving jazz scene (including Cassie Kinoshi and her Seed Ensemble, drummer-producer Kwake Bass, Jazz Warrior Orphy Robinson, Tom Skinner’s Wildflower, folk-crossover artists Rozi Plain, Alabaster DePlume and Joshua Idehen) will team up to perform. Also on the bill – Chelsea Carmichael, Cherise Adams-Burnett, Crispin Spry Robinson, Deschanel Gordon, Donna Thompson, Dylema Amadie, Emma-Jean Thackray, Idris Rahman, James Howard, Joe Bristow, Leon Brichard, Maria Osuchowska, Miguel Gorodi, Mutale Chashi, Noriko Okaku, Oscar Jerome, Patrick Boyle, Rai Wong, Rio Kai, Sheila Maurice-Grey, Shirley Tetteh, Tyrone Isaac-Stuart, Yael Camara Onono, Yohan Kebede and more special secret guests to come. This milestone event will unfold over five chapters, blurring the lines of what jazz is and creating new, exclusive and unexpected collaborations.

“There’s a strong link between club culture and live music in today’s vibrant music scene – what some have called ‘jazz-rave’ – and Dreaming The City will offer an energetic journey through time, space and London’s rich culture. The evening will start with a celebration of Caribbean sounds, recognising the community that first established the space as a musical hub. Following this, we trace the contemporary lineage of jazz music between inner-city London, West Africa, the Caribbean and continental Europe. Expect a session showcasing household names premiering new outfits, dropping old classics and brand new tunes. The music will reflect the diversity of sounds that have been danced to at TRC, from reggae and dub, to Krautrock via jazz and West African grooves.”

Some glimpses…

 
…and here’s a short film about the state of London jazz (with plenty of TRC-ing) which was released into the wild a few months ago in January…


 
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Back in January I did some praise singing for Steam Down, the south London jazz collective who bring regular African-inspired but London-cooked communal music events to Deptford. For the benefit of those north and east Londoners who for some reason never cross the river, they’re playing Shoreditch’s Village Underground towards the end of the month.

Steam Down, 24th April 2019“Join Steam Down as they take over Village Underground, with members on the decks and some very special guests joining them on stage. Jumping off from the sonic springboard of Afrofuturism, grime and future soul, all fused together with the fearless spontaneity of jazz, Steam Down is an arts collective comprised of Ahnanse, Alex Rita, Brother Portrait, Sawa-Manga, Theon Cross, Nadeem Din-Gabisi, Benjamin Appiah, Dominic Canning and “Nache. The collective congregates mid-weekly for a live performance where healing vibes and compulsive dancing are just as important as the music. Previous sessions have included guest appearances from Kamasi Washington, Sampa The Great, Nubya Garcia, members of Ezra Collective, SEED Ensemble and Sons of Kemet. Every week proves to be a co-creative piece of magic where everyone’s participation matters.”


 
There’s a new Village Underground interview with Steam Down here, but below is part of what I wrote about them three months ago:

“(An) African-inspired collective ethos… a diverse, voluntary hive mind, their individualities fused and encouraged by common purpose… a simmering pot of phuture soul, West African rhythms and cheerful Afrofuturism, the rapid offset breakbeat-splash and electrophonic edge of grime and broken-beat, and (in particular) spiritual jazz. That said, they’re well aware that they should steer clear of romantic oversimplifications about roots. As Ahnanse remarked in an interview with ‘The Vinyl Factory’ last year, “the roots of what we are creating starts outside of that context, jazz is not the only source of improvised music in the world. It happens in many forms and many cultures, we all come from different spaces and cultures, and it isn’t black American culture, none of us were born there, so actually we are bringing all of those other experiences into this… In a society that is so hegemonic and monotonous it’s nice to surprise yourself and be surprised, by people that you know well.” More than anything else, Steam Down work is inspired by the interlocking of Afro-diasporan culture with week-by-week London life – the information-rich bustle and challenges of a world city made up of people from everywhere, many of them sometimes pushing (or knocking heads) against half-invisible restrictions and oppressions as well as providing broad-mindedness and opportunity.”


 
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Also this spring, guitarist/composer Chris Montague revs up his jazz trio Warmer Than Blood (with bass guitarist Ruth Goller and pianist Kit Downes) for a couple of month-apart gigs in London and Cardiff. As I noted when I wrote about them in February, between them they can draw on a massive range of potential influences (including Sephardic music, manouche, punk jazz, Latin folk and Maghrebian sounds, the bouncing imagined world-jazz of the F-IRE Collective, Chris’ six-string avant-mapping in Future Currents) but in practise tend to go somewhere else – somewhere more uprooted and peril-flecked. Compared to the broad communality of Steam Down or the TRC community, they’re coming from a different place – tenser, more abstract and (if we’re being honest) whiter – but it’s still a collective communal effort, just shrunk down to a smaller chamber and a slender triangular format.

Warmer Than Blood, 22nd April/21st May 2019

As I wrote last time, “all three are longtime friends and collaborators, seeking yet another new approach. They seem to have found it with Chris’ newest batch of compositions and improvisation-seeding situations, which he suggests consist of “intricate textures, dark pools of harmony, layered melodies, kinetic group improvisation and percussive prepared piano… fractious composed passages can inhabit the same sonic space as spare, ambient melodies, often described as melancholic and uplifting at the same time…” Introverted and ominous, their name-track’s a quiet etiolated piano exploration over a minimal pulsing guitar-chord cycle and locked-in bass rumble. The excerpt from a longer piece, FTM, is a gradual evolver in which Chris hovers in menacing sustain/volume-swell textural clouds and momentary dust-devils over ghost-Latin clicks and bass piano thuds (Kit muting the piano at both ends) before the trio expand into what’s partly a kind of haunted country music (like a Bill Frisell ensemble scoured to the bone by plains wind), and partly like a salsa band coming to terminal grief in a badlands dustbowl.”

Here’s a rare recent live recording and an album taster for their imminent debut…

 
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Dates:

Boiler Room and Total Refreshment Centre present:
BR x Total Refreshment Centre: ‘Dreaming The City’
Barbican Hall @ Barbican Arts Centre, Silk Street, City of London, London, EC2Y 8DS, England
Saturday 13th April 2019, 8.00pm
– information here and here

Warmer Than Blood:

Steam Down
Village Underground, 54 Holywell Lane, Shoreditch, London, EC2A 3PQ, England
Wednesday 24th April 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here
 

April/May 2019 – upcoming English gigs – soul, folk, hip hop, poetry, glimmer pop and more on Lilith Ai’s Bare Radical tour through Cambridge, Bradford, Nottingham, Bristol, Reading and London (9th/14th/19th April, 1st/3rd/9th May) with her assorted support club of singer-songwriters, performance poets, folksters and dream/garage rockers

8 Apr

If you just took Lilith Ai at her word as being the possessor of a “pretty mouth and a dirty tongue”, and you’d also heard that she rapped, you’d be expecting a London version of Nikki Minaj.


 
Not the case. A more accurate parallel would be a latterday Joan Armatrading, or perhaps a lower-key Lauryn Hill; Lilith’s an accomplished and intimate singer-songwriter drawing subtly on folk, soul, hip-hop and R&B and pulling them onwards. Comparisons will only get you so far, though, since Lilith bypasses Armatrading’s discreet ’70s reticence and instead owns a lippier and punkier streak; and although she shares Hill’s love of a street beat, a bent note and a woke stance, she lacks the latter’s self-righteous, self-sabotaging chippiness. Dirty tongue claims notwithstanding, she’s also less of an out’n’out cusser than she might suggest. The occasion f-bomb strike is part of the no-nonsense, “you-can-stop-right-there-boy” feminism which provides the steely core to what she does: offset by the engaging warmth of an artist who is as much interested in people as in stances.

The British music biz isn’t always kind to talented black girls with guitars – Joan might have done OK, but whatever happened to Peppercorn? – but Lilith isn’t the sort to be eaten alive. Untangling her past provides some interesting complexities and clashes. There’s some fine material for legend-building here – her mingled Afro, Chinese and Indian ancestry, and the fact that she spent part of her early twenties sleeping rough and near-penniless in both Tottenham and Queens (at one point in a wrecked car, later towed away in a scenario that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Tom Waits song). Set against that is her additional background as a music school grad who can hang with and work alongside a surprising breadth of allies, from fearsome bluespunknoise grrlforce Skinny Girl Diet to rising fashion aristocracy in the shape of Georgia May Jagger.



 
The key to understanding how this all fits together is in how Lilith structures her approach to art and community. With artistic roots in comic-writing geekery, she’s always had a strong sense of mood and detail. Later along the line, as a developing songwriter, she’s allied it to a fervent desire to create a mostly female (and queer-friendly) movement which rejects counterproductive competitive bitchery in favour of an ethic of sympathy and mutual support, stepping up to political solidarity. All of this also needs to be seen through the arty barrier-trashing lens of punk spirit, which explains her Fight Like A Girl crew. A loosely-defined friendship-in-art arrangement, F.L.A.G. is a feminist/LGBT+ art/music collective inspired equally by late ’70s summers of Britpunk, by the political ferment of ’90s Olympia and by latterday movements like #TimesUp. It involves zinework, recording and enthusiastic intimate gigs in makeshift scratch locations, all within a fearless female atmosphere allied to a sense that rigid genre (and rigid gender) boundaries are less important than constructive intent and political engagement.

While Lilith’s upcoming Bare Radical mini-tour isn’t explicitly a Fight Like A Girl event, it bears all of the hallmarks. It’s packed with other female artists (plus assorted sympathetic male players and a hefty proportion of non-binary artists) and takes place in a dissimilar scatter of formal venues and found spaces in bookshops, community centres, cafes and co-operatives up and down England. Lilith will also be laying off on her beats and concentrating on the acoustic/unplugged side of things as she performs and promotes her new ‘Bare Radical’ EP. She’s still budding, still climbing, poised on the lip of the excellence her early work promised. Now is a perfect time to join the event, while she’s still in venues close enough to share breath.



 
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Along for most of the dates is the delightfully energised craft-popper Myles McCabe (generally best known as guitarist for London pop punkers Fresh), who’s playing at Cambridge, Bradford and Nottingham with his Me Rex project. On the surface Myles has got a pretty high tweeness count. All of his Rex albums and EPs are named after prehistoric creatures from mammoths to stegosauri, most of his pet sounds are cheap ones (synth parps, guitar clunks, snatches of bedroom rave, a little piano), and his voice is sweetly vulnerable, bending under a little rhotacistic twist and folding like paper on the high notes.

On the other hand, there’s a blazing articulate passion to what he does, his songs volcanoing out of an initial small hotspot and expanding into broadening emotional tapestries in which simple ideas link inexorably to others like agitated mercury blobs, layering into a gorgeous pop outburst. He describes himself as “kind of like a cross between Art Brut and Kraftwerk. That started off as a pun about arts & crafts but then I really liked the way it sounded.” It’s a good gag, but self-deflating indie jokes aren’t really what he’s about.


 
At Cambridge, a couple of singer-songwriters are hoppping on board. There’s local girl Helen Robertson, an enthusiastic music homecrafter and constant collaborator who (although she seems to have been a bit quiet recently) released a twelve-month sprint of EPs across 2014. Hers is an unfussy, chameleonic, DIY hobby-table approach which embraces strummy-or-noisy kitchen-sink indie, blobby instrumental synth pop, pub gig comedy, and various overdubbed a cappella work from solo folk-pop chorales to patter songs. There’s also Sophie Foster, the self-professed teenaged “lever harp megababe” who usually lurks behind the name of The Sunday School. To be honest, I’m baffled about her: this brief appearance on YouTube and the couple of Soundcloud demos below suggests that rather than harping she blip-pongs away on a little keyboard and murmurs reflections on uncertainties and diary notes; while other Soundcloudings suggest a lo-fi guitar trudger, and there’s something else on Spotify which I don’t know about thanks to my still holding out on the platform. Her Twitter presence suggests someone fierce and grrly behind the whispering.

I’m guessing that Sophie’s someone whom you have to discover and to follow live for quite a while, picking up scraplings before you get the full story. As for Helen, attempting to pick a key track seems to be a waste of time, so I’m just throwing three together at random here.

 
It’s the same at Bradford, where self-propelled onetime busker-for-a-bet Liam Jarvis joins the bill, alongside gently punk-oustic Leeds folkie Sarah Carey (whose music is divided between disaffected urban acoustica and committed folk baroque instrumentals, groping between them for a doorway to somewhere better). I’ve got nothing for Liam, but here’s Sarah:


 
In Nottingham, Lilith’s supported by both Jemma Freeman & The Cosmic Something and Matt Abbott. Once the guitarist for heavy dream-rockers Landshapes, Jenna now offers up sardonic psychedelic glam-rocking with a band featuring Furniture/Transglobal Underground drummer Hamilton Lee, moonlighting producer/bassist Mark Estall, and Krupa on synth and backing vocals. Wakefield wordsmith Matt runs the spoken word label Nymphs & Thugs and both writes and performs poetry for kids and adults replete with “socio-political commentary, human struggle and kitchen sink realism” (plus, for the kids “playful rebellion (and the) challenging (of) societal stereotypes”).




 
Matt and Me Rex both resurface for the London date, which also features a pair of junior traditioneers in the shape of “teenage lo-fi soul singer” Charlie Mburaki (who sang with Lilith on the latter’s recent Warrior Queen) and drawling junior-Dylan-esque folk rocker Oliver Rodzianko

 
There are more fierce, plangent words at the Bristol gig. It’s a free event in a bookshop in which punk and slam poetry have an equal presence to musicin the shape of Bridget Hart (teller of tough, gritty tales and compiler of a poetic “love-letter to women and female solidarity”) and in the sliding, pulsing genderqueer cadences of Aiysha’s accounts and explorations of “mental illness, love, trauma and gender identity”.

Also on hand is the slow, sad, beautiful “shimmer pop” and voiceloops of Georgie Biggins, a.k.a. GINS, who from one angle sounds like a lo-fi gender-swapped bedsit Blue Nile passed through an a capella dream-pop filter and from another like f.k.a. Twigs morphing into ’90s goth-wispers Cranes. Don’t be entirely misled by the soft and introverted textures, though. Underneath Georgie’s apparent mournfulness, the gossamer delicacy and the blurred, haunting visuals there’s both resistance and outright challenge, just framed in a different way; the secret thought that’s a couple of steps away from a marching flag.



 
GINS is also onboard for the Reading show, where Lilith is joined by the fluttering acoustic pop-soul singing of Amya-Ray; by the sometimes-psychedelic, sometimes-instrumental acoustic-indie-folk of Colours & Fires (who’ve placed themselves firmly on the gender-equality frontlines); and by the mysterious, frankly undocumented RIYA (who could be punk or poet, first-person singular or group, for all the info they’ve provided… but the open-ended mystery’s at least in keeping with the rest of the Bare Radical openness).

 

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Full Lilith Ai ‘Bare Radical’ tour dates:

  • The Blue Moon, 2 Norfolk Street, Cambridge, CB1 2LF, Cambridgeshire, England – Tuesday 9th April 2019, 9.00pm (with Me Rex + Sophie Foster + Helen Robertson) – information here and here
  • The 1 in 12 Club, 21-23 Albion Street, Bradford, BD1 2LY, England – Sunday 14th April 2019, 7.00pm (with Me Rex + Sarah Carey + Liam Jarvis) – information here and here
  • City Arts, 11-13 Hockley, Nottingham, NG1 1FH, England – Friday 19th April 2019, 7.00pm (with Me Rex + Jemma Freeman & the Cosmic Something + Matt Abbott) – information here and here
  • Hydra Books, 34 Old Market Street, Bristol, BS2 0EZ, England – Wednesday 1st May 2019, 7.00pm (with GINS + Bridget Hart + Aiysha) – free event – information here and here
  • Reading University Students Union, Whiteknights Campus, Reading, Berkshire, RG6 6AZ, England – Friday 3rd May 2019, 7.30pm (with GINS + RIYA + Amya-Ray + Colours & Fires) – information here and here
  • VFD, 66 Stoke Newington Road, Shacklewell, London, N16 7XB, England – Thursday 9th May 2019, 8.00pm (with Me Rex + Matt Abbott + Charlie Mburaki + Oliver Rodzianko) – information here, here and here

 

July 2018 – upcoming London singer-songwriter gigs – Ana Silvera’s ‘Oracles’ at the South Bank (4th July) and Holly Penfield’s ‘Fragile Human Monster’ in Piccadilly (9th July)

1 Jul

Ana Silvera, 4th July 2018

‘Oracles’ – the BASCA-nominated song-cycle by Anglo-Portuguese singer-songwriterAna Silvera – already has a seven-year history. Created more or less in parallel with her debut album ‘The Aviary’ (and originally a choral piece for the NEC choir at the Roundhouse), it’s now returning this month, freshly re-arranged for Ana and small vocal/instrumental ensemble, for a full album release and the first of two 2018 live shows.

A response to the pain of intimate family bereavement, ‘Oracles’ “draws on folk tales and myths to chart a transformative journey from profound grief to tentative acceptance.” In some senses it’s a wide-spectrum take on adult pop without a trace of that genre’s unnecessary blandening: an as-it-happens assessment of the dramatic personal shifts in position following the loss of both loved ones and of the relationship one has with them while they’re alive.

What I’ve heard of it so far suggests a similar vivacity as her songs elsewhere on album or in her theatrical work – vividly characterised narratives of internal reflection and of landscapes both physical and emotional, mingling detailed, nakedly honest personal verbal imagery and an influx of Portuguese folk feel in a way which makes her sound a little like an Iberian Jane Siberry.


 
For the live performance, Ana’s six-piece band features her co-arranger – Listenpony curator and singing multi-instrumentalist Josephine Stephenson – plus a wealth of folk-jazz talent in the shape of the string trio of Jasper Høiby on double bass, Alice Zawadzki on vocals and violin, and Alice Purton on vocals and cello, plus Will Barry on piano and percussion.

The concert will feature “specially arranged new songs” for the first half and a full run through ‘Oracles’ for the second: the latter including a specially commissioned dance film by Royal Ballet/’Random Acts‘ director/dancer Kate Church and art director Alice Williamson.

Ana Silvera – ‘Oracles’
Purcell Room @ Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, Waterloo, London, SE1 8XX, England
Wednesday 4th July 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here


 
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Holly Penfield, 9th July 2018

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

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


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


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

Holly Penfield’s Fragile Human Monster Show
Crazy Coqs @ Brasserie Zédel, 20 Sherwood Street, Soho, London W1F 7ED, England
Monday 9th July 2018, 9.15pm
– information here


 

June 2018 – upcoming London gigs – Multi-Storey’s 1st Birthday Party with WorstWorldProblems, Augustus, Tony Njoku, Elsa Hewitt, The Mantis Opera and Socket; experimental choralists Haha Sounds Collective sing David Axelrod, with Blueprint Blue and Lætitia Sadier (both 9th June)

6 Jun

A couple of posts ago I was grumbling vaguely about ‘Misfit City’ getting too rarefied, cubbyholed and white. If I’m absolutely honest, that’s probably my default setting – the subcultural narrowness, that is, not the complaining. Part of the point of the blog is to expand my own musical education: it’s a process of broadening my outlook and involvement as a listener. Still, I’m well aware that I frequently travel and listen more like a toy fisherman in a novelty clock – rotating in a small circle around an established axis while flicking out a line for what must often seem more like show than anything else.

Gratifyingly, a new gig’s hoving into view at the end of the coming week involving two of the acts I’ve previously covered – one outright punk, the other convoluted RIO techprog – rubbing up against hip-hop, textured ‘tronica and avant-soul-pop. On the same day, an indie-slanted choral group duck the spell of Britpop-grunge covers by investigating David Axelrod alongside an Americana band and a showing by Gallo-Anglo lounge-pop queen Lætitia Sadier. Sometimes you don’t have to force or hanker after cross-pollination: sometimes it comes to you, unprompted.

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From promoters Multi-Storey:

“We’ve actually made it to our first birthday and it’s all down to the amazing people who have played, danced, and generally been friendly and encouraging at our shows! We’ve had an absolute pleasure meeting and listening to some of the most thrilling new bands both from London and further afield over the past 365 and a bit days, so we thought that a big monstrous party/gig/exhibition with some of our favourites would be the perfect way to round off a wonderful year. We want to say thanks to those who have been so helpful, say hi to some new friends, and toss ourselves around like a sentient salad. We’ll be joined at one of our favourite venues by an eclectic and spectacular line-up of our favourite and most exciting new acts, which we will be announcing over the next few weeks. Get yourself a ticket for a late night with unexpected levels to it, and some fantastic music that you never knew existed – stay tuned for announcements!”

Multi-Storey's First Birthday Party, 9th June 2018

Multi-Storey presents:
‘Multi-Storey’s 1st Birthday Party’ featuring Worst World Problems + Augustus + Tony Njoku + Elsa Hewitt + The Mantis Opera + Socket
Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, 42-46 Pollard Row, Bethnal Green, London, E2 6NB, England
Saturday 9th June 2018, 9.00pm
– information here and here

Announcements have duly arrived. Up in the headliner slot, Worst World Problems are a new hip-hop collective. On the evidence of their mini-album ‘Tape One’ their sound’s a blend of chilly ‘80s synthpop nightscapes, data-bus drift and exhausted, hooded, sore-heeled rapping. Inevitable ‘Mezzanine’ and Drake comparisons ensue: there’s that same draggled, overcast feel in the sad ambient production billows and the flow, but WWP take it even further. Their raps feel like echoes around corners, anti-brags, collarbone murmurs from introspective three-quarters-broken boys feeling reamed out and deadened by romantic disintegrations. You feel that at some point they’re going to blow themselves out with a sigh.


 
Augustus is producer/drummer/keyboard player Gus Lobban, who for the past four years has mixed and dispensed cheery ice-cream-flavoured Anglo-J-pop with Kero Kero Bonito, more recently upping the fuzz-rock/stage-school urchin content. I’m not sure what he intends for this solo appearance, but here’s KKB’s recent Only Acting single: pick out his contributions if you can. Here, the breakdown sounds like a literal breakdown: he might still be surfing the shockwave.

 
Anglo/Nigerian/cosmic artiste Tony Njoku writes and sings eccentric, thread-fine, vulnerable electro/sort-of-soul, reflecting a young life spent mostly in “grey areas”. Beneath his papery falsetto, slide-clicking trap beats and silly-putty analogue synthwork align with lyrics about origami swans, seraphim and care-powered balloons. African tin-can beats are sideswiped by colossal dance drones and billowing symphonic modular-synth stackings. Pick-out piano fragments leans against rice-paper inserts of gospel tones. It’s psychedelic, but it’s a long way from the muscularity of P-Funk or The Temptations: Afrodelic in hue, it’s also untrammelled by cultural confines.

Imagine a set of constellatory echoes of David McAlmont and Arca; of Wayne Coyne and Frank Ocean; of Jackie Shane and Ahnoni; even bits of Jon Anderson and Arthur Russell. Gossamer and guts. As for Tony himself, his music comes with the feeling that he’s unhitching from as many enforced identities and narratives as he’s clambering onto: as if he’s escaping in plain sight.

 
“Electronic – lo-fi – avant garde – experimental – singer-songwriter – ambient – if there is one thing I am not, I know that it is pop… catchy nonetheless.” The releaser of a series of cassette albums (rising to a prolific swell in 2017), Elsa Hewitt creates assorted soft and mesmeric musical shapes on samplers, loopers, guitars or pianos; or on captured, folded sounds; or with banked and buried voices. It’s electronica of a kind, but without the matter-of-fact construction – this stuff sounds genuinely collaged and soft-sculptural, its cycles and processes and dream-pop sibilances ready for flexion or redeployment at any time. Some of her work is like chiming cartoon birdsongs, some of it like knitted cirrus or a cove-caught sea of whispering mouths. There are plenty of loopers and glitchers about, but few who can make their work sound so organic and subtly potent.



If you missed my original summary of The Mantis Opera late last month, I suggested that they “fused Henry Cow, Battles and early Scritti Politti…. Guitarist, singer and electronics meddler Allister Kellaway… delivers his stirring, challenging constructions via a full electro-experimental synth-rock band, voicing a collection of “avant-garde grumbles” via a multiplicity of synth sounds and colliding pop tones. If this sounds inaccessible and snooty, it isn’t. It’s just that the tunes arrive in complicated cascading splinters, many parts urging in parallel towards an out-of-sight coda, while a dreamily precise atmosphere prevails: avant-prog keeping watch from under a dream-pop veil.

“The pieces themselves display an ambitious, orchestral thinking – Reykjavik, for example, is less a guitar clang with lofty ambitions and more of a cerebral/visceral string quartet piece transposed for rock band. Allister’s winding, philosophical lyrics, meanwhile, are very reminiscent of Henry Cow and of Rock in Opposition preoccupations, dissecting as they do themes of resistance, logic, language and compliance with the air of a man trying to bring intellectual rigour to the pub, grabbing at the misty answers before the closing bell rings.”


 
As regards emergent punkers Socket, I’ve previously summed them up as “female-fronted firecrackers (who) don’t worry about anything like (angry, disenfranchised boredom and frustration), specialising in a hell-for-leather guitar pelt with capacious Lust For Life drumming and barely controlled chant-yelling.” That’s probably a bit reductive. For a start, they’re female-founded and female-focused as well as female-fronted (with unassuming, supportive drummer Morgan the only bloke in the lineup).

Read the ‘Beautiful Freaks’ interview here for more insight into the intertwining (or lack of it) of their band work with their assorted Fine Art and game music studies and the happy melding of schooled and unschooled musicality within the band. I suspect that you’ll get more out of that than you will out of this Bandcamp posting.


 
Adding to the texture, there’s offstage artwork, writings and chat from grassroots rock zines/nascent promoters ‘See You Mate – Yeah, See You Mate‘, and ‘Some Might Say‘, and from activist/theatre person Maya Harrison, with more to filter in in due course.

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Incredible Society For The Exploration Of Popular Song presents:
Haha Sounds Collective + Blueprint Blue + Laetitia Sadier
The Amersham Arms, 388 New Cross Road, New Cross, London, SE14 6TY, England
Saturday 9th June 2018, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

HAHA Sounds Collective + Blueprint Blue + Lætitia Sadier, 9th June 2018Part of the broader HAHA musical empire operating out of central Hackney (also including a studio and an independent record label, HAHA Sounds Collective are a new, experimental choral project and supergroup of art-pop-moonlighters exploring avant-garde arrangements. Led by Victoria Hamblett (singer for NO CEREMONY///), and Cathy Lucas (singer for Vanishing Twin, Fanfarlo and Innerspace Orchestra) with input from Syd Kemp, the choir and fully integrated band also includes Lætitia Sadier (more on her later), Clémentine March, Iko Chérie and various unnamed “past and present” members of Ulrika Spacek, Pollyanna Valentine, Broadcast, Blue House, Viewfinder, and Younghusband.

Their first project is a songbook version of David Axelrod’s 1970 jazz-funk cantata ‘Earth Rot’… and when I say jazz-funk, I’m not talking slap-grooves and plastic synth burbles, but the close-harmony vocalising in swagged cadenzas, twang-pocketed funk basslines, a pushing saxophone backed by a battery of brass. Strangely overlooked at the time of its original release on record (apparently down to it being too much of a leap out of Axelrod’s existing groove), it’s a vaulting, stained-glass show of an album: an early venture into pop-culture ecology drawing on Old Testament text and Navajo legend, celebrating the planet and chiding humans for the mess they’re making of it. The music’s now been transcribed for voice, by ear, by Arthur Sajas of Gabelt, ÉPÉE and Syd Kemp (who also serves as HAHA’s conductor).

This will be the work’s second performance, following its debut outing at Servant Jazz Quarters in February – yes, that slipped my notice too. This one doesn’t have to slip yours. Here’s a brief clip of HAHA Sounds Collective warming up, plus a taste of the original album.


 
Ostensibly an Americana band, Blueprint Blue actually use Americana’s moods, tones and characteristics to add coloration to what are otherwise very British songs about weather, walking and mild disappointments – the kind which might appear on the mimsier kind of folk-pop album, or which would have been half-smothered in noise or feedback on first-generation shoegazer records a quarter-century ago. Like a mixed bag of British players before them (including Gomez and Mark Knopfler, but more recently Acadian Driftwood and Horatio James) they’ve certainly mastered the sonic signifiers of American roads and roadhouses; but that’s not enough to fully inhabit the form.

The trouble with Americana is that the further you are from the situations which shaped its tones and subjects (and an ocean’s breadth doesn’t help with this), the more it starts sounding like a tinkle in a hollowed-out theatre. If you’ve got to pay tribute you’ve also got to pay dues, or fake it more convincingly. Songwise, at least, Blueprint Blue need some more grease on their axles; some more heartache and heartstring damage; some more blown-away shacks and more chances to sit dripping angry tears into their johnnycakes. Otherwise, it’s going to be a life of striving to be just a bit more like Mojave 3.


 
There may come a time when Lætitia Sadier isn’t associated, first and foremost, with Stereolab. I hope so. It’s not that there wasn’t, or isn’t, plenty to admire about her former band – just to pick out a few things, there was their unabashed musicality and willingness to draw on broad varieties of tone or reference; their matter-of-fact bilinguality and ready play of ideas; and the fact that they actually managed to revisit their varied roots and to somehow advance and transmute them (something of a holy grail achievement for many musical projects, but rarely achieved). But I, for one, am glad that her post-‘Lab work (with Source Ensemble and others) has unshackled her from that post-Velvets/post-motorik/brainiac-garage pulse: the rhythm cliche that blights so many otherwise promising acts; presses them out into two unforgiving dimensions; makes those who should be innovators and developers into enmired followers.

Lætitia’s set is either an evening opener or a middle-of-the-bill event, so I don’t know whether she’s brought along the Source Ensemble for accompaniment (for all I know, many of them may be in HAHA), or whether this is going to be a chance to hear her alone and independent/unencumbered. Either way, I hope it offers us the chance to hear her as she truly is now – a belatedly great French folk singer, although one neither bonded to the obligations of traditions or the past, nor restricted from broader conceptual and textual pallettes. In effect, an embodiment of a folk impulse reborn into the current age – with all of its opportunities for research and reflection and fresher global instincts – and let loose to create.


 

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

6 Mar

Echo Trails + Djanan Turan, 8th March 2018

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

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

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

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




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

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



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

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

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

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

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


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

MacGillivray + Sealionwoman + Polly Preacher, 16th March 2018

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

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

Discovering her is a little like being startled by a slow-motion jack-in-the-box: she’s already got eight albums behind her, a couple of soundtracks and poetry collections, and a collaborator roster which bags a list of left-field folk musicians of all strands and odd definitions, including The Fall (yes, folk, really), The Pogues’ Jem Finer, Dead Rat Orchestra, Trembling Bells and Current 93. Her performance art involves powerful weird rituals – furiously smoking cigars in Sigmund Freud’s garden; conflating mediaeval stocks and death metal; eating chandelier glass in an abandoned shopping centre; carrying a dead sheep on a pilgrimage.

As a musician (both recorder and performer), she’s similarly unnerving: experimenting with loudness and quietness via folk drones, piano, savagely distorted electric autoharp and vocal wails, but refusing to hide behind them. Slender, still and intense, she rules a stage, dragging up distressed ghosts and the aftermath of harsh laws and bare beliefs. On this occasion, she’ll be performing tracks from her forthcoming mini-album, ‘Watermarked in Flame’.




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

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

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



 

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

5 Feb

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

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

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Ian Beetlestone & The Drowning Rats, 10th February 2018

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

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

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


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

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



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

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

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

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


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

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



 

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



 

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




 

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

27 Jan

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

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

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Emma Lohan, 4th February 2018

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

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

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




 

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





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

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

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




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

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




 

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