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August 2020 – single & track reviews – Jakko M. Jakszyk’s ‘The Trouble with Angels’; Minute Taker’s ‘The Darkest Summer’; Ivan Moult’s ‘What More Could I Say?/Toxic’

14 Aug

Jakko M. Jakszyk: 'The Trouble with Angels'

Jakko M. Jakszyk: ‘The Trouble with Angels’

He’s a great asset to the current King Crimson, but it does often seem as if some of Jakko Jakszyk‘s talents are neglected there. With the band mostly concentrating on reinventing and reworking a fifty-year back catalogue, there doesn’t seem to be much room for Jakko’s original songs. A shame, since there are few better at shaping and refining plangent ballads which keep both their grand pictorial scale and their sense of shared confidences.

Heralding the release of a new Jakko solo album, ‘The Trouble with Angels’ (released via a Sam Chegini pencil-shades video) demonstrates all of this yet again. Jakko claims that it’s about “the innate urge to reach out to a stranger, following a chance meeting in Monte Carlo… combined with the monochrome memories of Wim Wenders’ ‘Wings of Desire’, where a moment of crisis is redefined by something magical.” Maybe so, but only half the story is in there. The song’s aching sadness (expressed through caressing arpeggios, a curving arm of bass, a far-off raindusting of piano and cymbal, and above all by the vast pining space which stretches the song out) contains a mingled looping cord of pain and regret, kindness and guilt.


 
It’s about the desire to do better (“a bruised romantic’s futile plan”) while owning the fact that one might still contain harm, deception and shortfall; still not sure whether the need for a coherent story might override proper self-awareness. (“Fate, vows and happy endings / turn to dust and disappear. / Yet the search for clues is never-ending, / to justify our presence here… You search for signs and keep pretending / that all these moments brought you here.”) All at once, it’s a love song to a passing moment, a hint of wrongdoing done, a confession of fallability continued; and, in that, a archetypal Jakko song. The trouble with angels who have longed to be kissed, / and every mortal distraction that they try to resist, / and the trouble with me and all the signals I missed – / the thing about angels is, they don’t really exist.”

MInute Taker: 'The Darkest Summer'

MInute Taker: ‘The Darkest Summer’

Continuing the stream of singles from his audiovisual fictional-historical ‘Wolf Hour’ project (which explores, in dream sequences, the emotional lives and social position of gay men across time), Minute Taker releases ‘The Darkest Summer’. This time, the key year is 1989 – the year of the Vatican AIDS conference, and one in which ignorance and lack of understanding regarding the disease was finally on the turn. That said, AIDS itself is never once referenced in the song: a haunting ultramarine pulse of Germanic synth pop which rhapsodies memories, swimming in ghostly warmth – “all of the years that went away / carried away with the tide… / When I close my eyes, I find you in the half-light / standing on the sand, your hand in mine.”


 
The key is the video element: a dusk-blue recounting of a beachside romance carried out amongst the sand dunes and amusement arcades, which suddenly slips into a nightmare of loss and haunting down at the waterline. Saturated colours give way to video glitches as if beset by repeated blows: a lover’s features become a screen for static and violent effacement; a man writhes in oppressive darkness as if drowning and trying vainly to beat his way free.

There are shades, though not explicit ones, of The Communards’ For a Friend: the song, especially in its video incarnation, is trip-wired by shockwaves of loss. You can draw your own conclusions about what brought it on (the swathing of a huge impersonal pandemic, or the small cruelties of people’s individual failings) since the song itself is not giving anything more away. Instead, it focuses in on the furious, futile attempts to cling to the brilliance of what was lost; to fix it in time and to fix oneself to it. “I’d stay this way forever / as long as you were by my side. / (Oh) we’ve got the summer, baby / (oh) if you wanna waste some time… / don’t talk about the future, we can leave it all behind.”

Ivan Moult: 'What More Could I Say?/Toxic'

Ivan Moult: ‘What More Could I Say?/Toxic’

Previously known for his own kind of singer-songwriter confessionals (a succession of neo-folk baroque songs in the Nick Drake/David Gray vein), Ivan Moult seems to have been infected with a different enthusiasm during coronavirus lockdown. Already the owner of a dreamy, slightly weightless voice, he’s now bouncing and slurring it around the back of the mix for a decidedly Americanised remodelling.

Behind the reverbing “doo-doo”s of his backing singers and the electric country-telegraph-blues guitar he’s now favouring, ‘What More Could I Say?’ initially seems to meander delightfully within its classic framework, like Glen Campbell coming unstuck at Sun Studios. Once you get past the murmuring slurs, the high flutters and momentary keenings, though, you’re left with a true-to-form evocation of the wobblings of love. Its yearnings and its grumps, its desires and trepidations of settling on what might be unreliable ground. “Is it all in my mind / or are you sending me signs,/ ‘cos I don’t want to be that guy… / The way you turn your shoulders, you’re gonna loose smoulderings in my senses… / Are you staying over? / What I wanna know is / whether this is more than a lie…”

 
Not content with that, Ian dials up the reverb even more for a cover of Britney Spears’ Toxic that’s part slowcore country and part space rock, and therefore pretty much a hundred per cent ‘Twin Peaks’ Roadhouse. Discarding the brassy energy in favour of the high, lonesome sound is a kind of masterstroke, transforming it from a tingling celebration of forbidden fruit and remaking it into a dread-stricken mourning over addiction’s pull. Perhaps it always was, but giving it a touch of the Hank Williamses (or perhaps the Michael J. Sheehys) doesn’t hurt. Well, in a manner of speaking, it doesn’t.

 
Jakko M. Jakszyk: ‘The Trouble with Angels’
Inside Out Music (no barcode or catalogue number)
Download/streaming single
Released:
14th July 2020
Get it from: download from Amazon; stream via Apple Music or YouTube
Jakko M. Jakszyk online:
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Minute Taker: ‘The Darkest Summer’
Octagonal Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
14th August 2020
Get it from: Minute Taker shop
Minute Taker online:
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Ivan Moult: ‘What More Could I Say?/Toxic’
Bubblewrap Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Released:
14th July 2020
Get it from: download from Apple Music, Google Play or Amazon Music; stream via Soundcloud, YouTube, Apple Music, Deezer, Google Play, Tidal, Spotify and Amazon Music
Ivan Moult online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Last FM YouTube Vimeo Spotify Instagram Amazon Music
 

March 2020 – single & track reviews – Jack Hayter’s ‘The Dark End of the Street’; Bijou Noir’s ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’; Holly Penfield’s ‘Diggin’ It’

31 Mar

“This old earworm in my head while I take my lonesome walk in the time of Corona. A very rough and ready recording and, sorry, got some of the words wrong. Stay safe and stay well.” Warm, self-deprecatory sentiments from Jack Hayter; under voluntary lockdown in Gravesend, broadcasting via webcam, and toying with his pedal steel and with this venerable “best cheatin’ song ever”.

As ever, he plays himself down. Certainly he can’t complete with the deep Southern soul tones of James Carr from the original version: so regal that they transformed the Penn/Moman tale of stolen backstreet fumbles into the tragedy of a king felled by love. Jack’s voice, in contrast, sounds as if it’s been on the sticky end of about a hundred too many bar fights, losing a lung along the way. As ever, though, it’s a strength – a magnificent, humanising flaw which lends his originals and his interpretations a battered and compassionate humanity.

Compared to the majesty of Carr’s pair of cheaters, Jack’s pair of illicit lovers may be past their best; possibly ignorable shunt-asides in the game of life, perhaps stuck in wrecks of marriages, but neither age nor circumstances kills off instinctive passions. Jack’s rendition tempers the tragedy with an air of flinching defiance: his lovers are going to feel the weight come down on them eventually, but they’re going to drain these moments for whatever all-to-rare life savourings present themselves. “I know time is gonna take its toll / We have to pay for the love we stole / It’s a sin and we know it’s wrong / Oh but our love keeps coming on strong…”

 
Bijou Noir‘s Eurotrance version of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ (originally broadcast as part of the Give|Take label’s COVID-20 Live Streaming Series) really ought to be laughable, but it isn’t. The original Beatles version was a benchmark, their front-and-centre pop suddenly kissed by raga and the avant-garde with none of any of the elements involved being diminished. Four decades of airplay might have dulled its impact, but that’s no reason to deny that impact: the feeling of a song curling up at the corners like a magic carpet, of time running every whichway; and beyond that, the ‘Book of the Dead’-inspired call for the death of ego and the willing surrender to the journey beyond it.

Staying true to his own methods, Bijou Noir’s Augustus Watkins sacrifices much. He ignores the original’s specific psychedelic dislocation; he strips the song back to the melody line; and then he refurbishes it with layer upon layer of blushing skirling synthwork, of the kind mined by Simple Minds back in the start of the ’80s. In many respects, it’s the clean edit, and we know what kind of butchery that can involve.


 
Augustus gets around this by tapping into a different egolessness: that of the communality of the dancefloor, where hundreds of solipsistic experiences can merge into a collective spiritual one. What’s left after all of the 1960s sonic wizardry is removed? Lennon’s instinct for tune and directness; a set of instructions which need no technology and, indeed, next to no culture; added to this, Bijou Noir’s knack for the triggers of clubland and the transcendent post-humanity of electronica.

In contrast to the two songs above, ‘Diggin’ It’ might be original, but perhaps it isn’t the best song that a revitalised Holly Penfield has to offer these days. The chorus is pure, hoary corn and it doesn’t have the tango grace of last year’s ‘La Recoleta’. Still, there’s a winning exuberance to its roadhouse rock swagger and its brassy flourishes. Further evidence of Holly’s ongoing trip into roots rock, it’s happy to be a simple celebration of love and contentment, and it brims over with the fulfilment that was missing from the angsty synthpop of her Fragile Human Monster years.


 
With time having added a little extra whisky grain to her gorgeous, gutsy voice, Holly’s spreading the satisfaction – “Never thought I could get this far, / but if love is all then that’s what you are. / With your secret smile and forgiving eyes / your laughing style makes you Buddha-wise / Drank from cups of tears and trust, / paradigms of pain. / Thirsting for / something more -/ and now my glass is overflowing in the pouring rain.” In the spirit of sharing, this is a free download from here, and you can cop a direct quick listen here

Jack Hayter: ‘The Dark End of the Street’
self-released (no catalogue number or barcode)
Video-only track
Released:
28th March 2020
Get it from: view on Vimeo and YouTube
Jack Hayter online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM YouTube Vimeo Deezer Spotify Amazon Music

Bijou Noir: ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’
Give|Take, GT012 (no barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
28th March 2020
Get it from: free download from Give|Take online store oy pay-what-you-like from Bandcamp
Bijou Noir online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM Apple Music YouTube Spotify Instagram Amazon Music

Holly Penfield: ‘Diggin’ It’
Raymond Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download-only free single
Released:
31st March 2020
Get it from: free download here
Holly Penfield online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Last FM Apple Music YouTube Deezer Google Play Spotify Tidal Instagram Amazon Music
 

January/February 2020 – showcases in London with Ragga Gröndal in Earls Court (19th January) and Velveteen Orkestra, Ben Eaton, Hattie Erawan and Matt Ryan in Soho (21st January); plus Blair Coron’s ‘On The Nature Of Things’ quiet evening in London and Glasgow (21st January, 7th February) with Zoë Bestel, Anin Rose, Tom Blankenberg, Charlie Grey and Joseph Peach

14 Jan

A set of upcoming showcases happening at opposite corners of the country.

 
Ragga Gröndal’s currently a little-known name over here. In Iceland, though, she’s a much bigger deal – hailed as one of the country’s most remarkable singers. Performing in both Icelandic and English, she spans folk, pop and classical elements: less of an upsetter and groundbreaker, perhaps, than most of the Icelandic musicians who make the crossing over to Britain, but as the expounder of a kind of refined pop purity that’s actually a broad umbrella for a rich blend of other musical aspects, she does well. Here’s the blurb:

“The sound of Ragga Gröndal’s music is warm, adventurous and modern, yet accessible for curious music-lovers. (She) has worked with the same musicians for a decade and together they have toured all over Europe and created many beautiful and unforgettable moments. The band consists of musicians who are all independent artists in their own right; Guðmundur Pétursson (guitar), her brother Haukur Gröndal (woodwind player) and Claudio Spieler (percussion)… Each and every concert becomes a unique journey between the musicians, the audience and the performance space.”

For this special one-off show in London on the 19th, Ragga’s just bringing Guðmundur Pétursson: a musician whose work stretches from pop to his own classical guitar concertos, he’s an ideal and flexible foil.



 
* * * * * * * *

There’s a Success Express quadruple bill at Zebranos in Soho on the 21st, part of a new fortnightly showcase scheme. It’s all free to get in, but you pay Soho prices for your drinks and they suggest you book ahead for a table if you want to get in and sit down.

The Velveteen Orkestra + Ben Easton + Hattie Erawan + Matt Ryan, 21st January 2020As leader of The Velveteen Orkestra, Dan Shears dresses his dramatic sky-high vocals and rockabilly guitar in a wagon circle of string trio, piano and drums; sometimes evoking the country pop of Del Shannon or Dion, sometimes a Russian tundra shimmer, sometimes Muse-ian histrionics. Seasoned Aussie guitarist-singer-songwriter Ben Eaton is as smooth and gritty and no-nonsense as a well-maintained backroad: he’s a constantly busy professional with weddings, corporate events and similar cover-fests under his belt along with the gigs stuffed with originals, but don’t let that put you off too much. He’s a witty performance livewire who’s more than capable of transcending any workaday made-to-measure gig as well as pulling off blues-funk shows of his own.



 

Two more singer-songwriters are on the bill. Hattie Erawan – until recently known as Hattie Marsh – is Norfolk-born, has mingled Thai and English heritage and a forbidding expression, and also has about five years of playing London acoustica mainstays like the Bedford and St Pancras Old Church. She’s got Joni Mitchell, Nirvana, and Sheila Chandra down as influences: the outcome is bare, clear modern songs with a hard electric edge, sung with a hint of storms and in a tone like a steel statue. Sessioneer/producer Matt Ryan is embarking, or perhaps reembarking, on a solo career. His lone available track, a demo for The Last Time, is a polished bit of white R’n’B: while it’s a tad conservative and stripped-back in its current state, emotionally it’s a good deal more convincing than much of what reaches the charts. Worth keeping an eye on.

 

* * * * * * * *

'On The Nature Of Things' - 21st January and 7th February 2020Although it does have a lower-income ticket option, another upcoming showcase – ‘On The Nature Of Things’ – isn’t free; but, to be fair, it’s less likely to cover its expenses with beer money and upmarket bar food. Its aims are to be “quiet… introspective… an intimate evening of music. Immerse yourself as we relish in the more subdued side of music for one night through folk song, piano music, ambience/electronic and some modern classical. It is a space to listen. Expect fairy lights, darkness, and music to make you sit in awe, cry or sleep.

“‘On The Nature Of Things’, which this event is named after, is the debut album by Glasgow based musician and composer Blair Coron, who shall be hosting this event and is currently touring the UK with it. His intention is to create enchanting atmospheres allows for the audience to listen to the performers and to set course for introspection and meditation.”

Blair’s own work blurs around classical and near-ambient ideas for piano, acoustic guitar and string ensemble. He describes the album as “a delicate exploration of the intricacy and fragility of life, nature and the surrounding world. It is love…mortality…the sublime…a personal mantra…every thing.” So far, on spec, typically New Age-y and easily consumable; but he also mixes in poetry, chamber chorale, mandolins, birdsong and folksongs and (somewhere) a Nintendo handheld games console. If you’re worried that his deliberate gentleness places him on the wrong side of tentative, don’t. The results are edgeless and delicate, deliberately softened and frangible; but they have their own dainty logic and an openness which is rare. Streets away from the guarded blandness of much of the post-classical wash.




 
He’s been doing these shows for about a year now (from Edinburgh to Yorkshire to Inverness and Manchester) and I’ve not heard about them before this; but there are currently two OTNOT shows happening soon, both featuring Blair and ukulele-folkster Zoë Bestel. If you read that last phrase and thought cutesy versions of old pop and indie hits, think again. Zoë’s of that small number of people who turn the uke into a kind of perpendicular harp, using it to underpin a gorgeous art-pop folk soprano and a series of bewitching small-place songs. The kind of song and delivery that kills casual chat and has a roomful of people rapt and focussed entirely on what they’re seeing and hearing.

 
The London show – on the same night as Success Express – also features a couple of German musicians. Pianist, composer and sound designer Tom Blankenberg (who runs the Convoi Studios in Düsseldorf) works in a similar post-classical vein to Blair, although a more austere one. In recent years, he became interested in writing for solo piano: the result was his debut album ‘Atermus’, released last year and containing thirteen tracks in which strangely tender romantic melodies are concealed in minimalist sparseness, as if Bill Evans were communing with Arvo Pärt. In contrast, Anin Rose creates gospel-infused piano pop – not at the brassy end of either, but at the silky reverberant intersection of both. On record, a subtle reverb skitters almost imperceptibly around her songs and harmonies chase the main vocal like kissing clouds: live, I’m guessing that she does it all by presence.

 
The Glasgow show – in early February – features a pair of Scottish folk musicians, Charlie Grey and Joseph Peach. A fiddler and pianist respectively, they’re rooted in tradition but immersed in present impression, “interested in making music filled with spontaneity, sensitivity and freedom. Inspiration comes from their pasts and surroundings, feeding music that’s rooted in tradition, whilst stretching it’s possibilities through improvisation and imagination.” Their latest release, last summer’s ‘Air Iomall’, was inspired by a trip around the currently uninhabited Shiant Isles off Scotland’s west coast, and their instrumental responses to the history that hangs around the places.


 
I’m hoping that Blair continues with these shows: they have a potential for some serious beauty. Previous evenings have included appearances by fellow Glaswegian post-chamber composer Richard Luke, piano improviser Carla Sayer and harpist Esther Smith; jazz/soul/gospel harmony duo Canter Semper; The Silver Reserve (a.k.a classical guitarist/looper Matthew Sturgess, who “plays delicate, sparse music (and) songs about out-of-body experiences, monogamy, small-town community Facebook pages and much more”; alt.folker Thomas Matthew Bower as Thomas & The Empty Orchestra; Jamie Rob’s post-everything project Poür Me, ambient song trio Luthia and drift band Neuro Trash; plus a further spray of diverse singer-songwriters in the shape of Simon Herron, Leanne Smith, Kate Dempsey, Mathilde Fongen, Hollie “Haes” Arnold, Leanne Body and Megan Dixon Hood. There’s a whole softened and glorious world opening up here.

* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Sunday Hive Sessions with Buzz Music Group presents:
Ragga Gröndal
The Troubadour, 263-267 Old Brompton Road, Earls Court, London, SW5 9JA, England
Sunday 19th January 2020, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Success Express Music presents:
The Velveteen Orkestra + Ben Eaton + Hattie Erawan + Matt Ryan
Zebrano Bars, 18 Greek Street, Soho, London, W1D 4DS, England
Tuesday 21st January 2020, 7.00pm
– free event – information here and here

‘On The Nature Of Things’:

  • SET (SET Dalston Lane), 27a Dalston Lane, Dalston, London, E8 3DF, England – Tuesday 21st January 2020, 7.00pm (Blair Coron + Anin Rose + Zoë Bestel + Tom Blankenberg) – information here, here and here
  • Old Trinity College, 35 Lynedoch Street, Glasgow, G3 6AA, Scotland – Friday 7th February 2020, 7.00pm (Blair Coron + Zoë Bestel + Charlie Grey & Joseph Peach ) – information here and here

 

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

15 Sep

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

Holly Penfield - 22nd September & 31st October 2019

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

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

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


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


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


 

Dates:

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…


 
* * * * * * * *

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.”


 
* * * * * * * *

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…

 
* * * * * * * *

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


 
* * * * * * * *

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.

* * * * * * * *

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.

* * * * * * * *

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.



 

* * * * * * * *

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.

* * * * * * * *

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.





 
* * * * * * * *

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…




 

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

7 Apr

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

* * * * * * * *

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

Emma Jean Thackray, 2016

Emma-Jean Thackray, 2016

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

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



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


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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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



 
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Jazz @ The Sitara, 24th April 2017

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

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

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

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

March/April 2017 – upcoming London gigs – Piano Day fringes – Xenia Pestova’s Non-Piano evening (18th March); Sophie Hutchings, Arthur Lea, Xenia Pestova and others at Daylight Music (1st April)

13 Mar

“Why does the world need a Piano Day? For many reasons, but mostly, because it doesn’t hurt to celebrate the piano and everything around it: performers, composers, piano builders, tuners, movers and most important, the listener.”Nils Frahm, Piano Day founder)

This year, Piano Day is on the 29th of March. I did a pretty exhaustive guide to last year’s event – I doubt that I’ll go to the same lengths this year (if you’re interested, have a look at the official site), but here are a couple of upcoming concerts related both to that and to its tinkly little brother, World Toy Piano Day eleven days earlier on 18th March.

Xenia Pestova: Non-Piano, 18th March 2017
Xenia Pestova presents:
Xenia Pestova: Non-Piano
IKLECTIK Art Lab, ‘Old Paradise Yard’, 20 Carlisle Lane, Lambeth, London, SE1 7LG, England
Saturday 18th March 2017, 8.30pm
information

“Pianist Xenia Pestova will play everything but the piano, presenting a wild mix of unconventional objects and sounds. The performance will include music by Helga Arias Parra for two aerospace engineers with prepared piano and live electronics, by Ed Bennett for the Indian harmonium and drones, by Christopher Fox for toy piano, Pierre Alexandre Tremblay for the ROLI Seaboard and fantastic world premieres from the participants of the first London Toy Piano Composition Workshop.”


 

Xenia is also one of the several pianists performing at the Daylight Music Piano Day concert at the start of April.

Daylight Music 251: Piano Day 2017
Arctic Circle presents:
Daylight Music 251: Piano Day with Sophie Hutchings + Arthur Lea + Xenia Pestova + Lorenzo Masotto
Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 1st April 2017, 12.00pm
– free event (suggested donation: £5.00) – information

“For centuries, people have found joy in playing, and listening to, the piano. Nils Frahm thought this beloved instrument should be honoured, and launched Piano Day in 2015. Daylight Music will be joining in the worldwide celebrations with a special concert of piano delights — including performances from Sophie Hutchings, Arthur Lea, Xenia Pestova and Lorenzo Masotto. From John Cage interpreted on toy piano, to retro rhythm’n’blues and southern soul to post-classical reflection from the other side of the world.”





 

March 2017 – upcoming Brighton gigs – Oscillations V on the 10th (JØTA, MUMMY, Maskulin); The Real Music Club on the 25th (Brother Twain, Gail Storm Edmunds, Jack Pout)

3 Mar

Here are a couple of imminent Brighton events which caught my attention, initially through their connection with a certain strand of south-coast English psychedelia – gently self-exiled, looking outward from the shore, murmurating in open-sky freedom) which spans contact, membership, inspiration or practical fellowship with the likes of Damo Sukuki, The House of Love, Cardiacs, Stereolab, Levitation, the Lewes Psychedelic Festival et al.

That said, the full range of what you eventually get here, along Brighton’s eclectic seafront, seems to sit itself more in other areas: ‘60s pop and Anglo rhythm-and-blues (Love, Traffic, The Walker Brothers), synthpop, European dance music and broken beats, folk-club fingerpicking, slightly eldritch post-punk noise. Everything meets by the sea.

* * * * * * * *

The first of these two gigs takes place in central Brighton’s rock’n’roll boutique hotel, Hotel Pelirocco – two Regency townhouses turned into a glamour warren. Oscillations have been running free nights of electronic/psychedelic music and visuals there since last autumn, inspired by fifty years of assorted countercultures and altered states of mind: I’m only just catching up with this now.

Oscillations V, 10th March 2017

Oscillations presents:
Oscillations V – JØTA + M U M M Y + Maskulin
Hotel Pelirocco, 10 Regency Square, Brighton, BN1 2FG, England
Friday 10th March 2017, 7.30pm
– free event – information

JØTA is electronic music producer Peter J.D Mason (half of Becky Becky, one-fifth of Cloud and formerly one-thirtieth of Fence Collective. He improvises electro-space-disco-synth-experimental-Soviet-dance tunes on cheap anal/igital synths inspired by the Soviet space programme of the ’50s and ’60s.


 
MUMMY‘s Jo Spratley and Bic Hayes breathe and drink and eat and live with all the other creatures and plants and beings in England near The Sea. They need very little to survive. They dedicate their noise to the vanishing ones and long to slip through the deep with the seal.


 
Maskulin provides a versatile collection of content generating modern twist on the beats scene. Expect vibrant combinations of genres from the likes of jazz and soul with modern rap to engineer a sound unique within the Brighton music scene.”


 
Also on hand are the “mind-melting visual projections” of Innerstrings, the “lumière” side of the son-et-lumière at Lewes Psychedelic Festival. DJ sets come from from the Oscillations organisers themselves and from DJ MessyTrax: “proud owner of one of the largest private collections of Legowelt vinyl in Fiveways… spinning a selection of tunes old and new, including aliases, side projects, collaborations and remixes… essential slam-jack electronics.”

* * * * * * * *

Later in the month, there’s an airier, gentler evening being staged a step or two westward in Hove, at which one of the newer Brighton bands are making their first live appearance.

The Real Music Club, 25th March 2017

The Real Music Club presents:
“The Triangulation of the New”: Brother Twain + Gail Storm Edmunds + Jack Pout
The Brunswick, 1-3 Holland Road, Hove, West Sussex, BN3 1JF, England
Saturday 25th March 2017, 8.00pm
– information here or here

“The name “Brother Twain” has been rumoured and whispered about on the Brighton scene for a few years now, especially amongst fans of legendary Brighton garage band CLOWWNS. The time has arrived for the Rodes brothers, Étienne and Adrien, to launch the band: drawing influences from classic pop, less classic pop, Krautrock, crooners, bluegrass and film music, it’s grown-up-psych-prog-baroque pop (with a love of circular melodies and unexpected chords via guitars, strings and brass).

“Brighton dwellers since the early 2000s, Adrien and Étienne hail from the historic city of Versailles, France. It’s perhaps unsurprising (or inevitable) therefore that their sister went to school with members of Phoenix, and that Nicolas Godin of Air once studied under the benevolent supervision of their father at the Versailles School of Architecture. Adrien previously busied himself with recording under the aliases Topo Gigio and Rec.Tangle for mancunian label Melodic Records, while Étienne joined Stereolab offshoot Imitation Electric Piano (with Simon Johns and Joe Watson) for their second album, before becoming part of CLOWWNS. Most recently, both brothers participated in the live rendition of Tim Smith’s Spratleys Japs album ‘Pony’.

“United by blood and an undying love for a crafty tune (and armed with a long list of tracks written over the last ten years), the Rodes brothers joined forces and got to work in Adrien’s six-meter square studio on the Brighton seafront along with singer/lyricist Miles Heathfield (CLOWWNS, Poppycocks) and drummer Damo Waters (CLOWWNS, Tim Smith’s Spratleys Japs, Electric Soft Parade, Field Music, SLUG), while hired hands played strings and brass. Adrien and Étienne played everything else and everyone chipped in for backing vocals. The Brother Twain debut album has been out since 19th February; this is their debut gig.


 
“Niece of the late trombone legend Rico Rodriquez, Gail Storm Edmunds grew up heavily influenced by reggae, soul, jazz and blues. Having played sessions and toured all over the world with the likes of Eddie Floyd, Terence Trent D’Arby, Heidi Berry and Sacha Stone, she’s pioneers her own “Hippy Soul” sound, blending her strong, rich, powerful yet classical voice to simple, affective acoustic guitar, meaningful songwriting and a catchy, upbeat, positive style. Though Gail’s original debut album ‘Time Is The Master’ (recorded back in 1999) ended up unreleased – and she subsequently took time out for happy motherhood – she is making a comeback (having played a number of festivals last year) with the upcoming ‘This is Hippie Soul’ EP.


 
Jack Pout is a BBC Folk Award-nominated singer/songwriter inspired by the revivalist musicians of the ’60s and ’70s. Jack’s music carries nuances of numerous influences such as John Martyn, Duster Bennett, Bob Dylan and Chris Smither but with an individuality that makes his music inimitably his. In 2015 he released his debut EP “Baksun” and he has just followed that up with the release of ‘Chrono Manual Man’ (an EP of his favourite songs from the ‘40s, ‘50’s, ‘70’s and 2016). Jack continues to play shows across the UK and Europe, playing and hosting stages at numerous festivals: his honest, and often deeply personal, style of writing is married to a love for humour. His live shows are known for their friendly and conversational style with audiences, and feared for his love of puns.”


 

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

3 Jan

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

Soif Soiree , 6th January 2016

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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


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

Beetles (photo by Paul @ bitoclass)

Beetles (photo by Paul @ bitoclass)


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



 

December 2016 – upcoming gigs – ‘Staggerlee Wonders’ with Robert Mitchell, Debbie Sanders, Corey Mwamba, John Edwards, Elaine Michener, Mark Sanders and others (London, 8th); Trio Generations with Maggie Nichols/Lisa Ullén/Matilda Rolfsson (Cheltenham and London, 9th & 11th)

5 Dec

StaggerLee Wonders
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Thursday 8th December 2016, 8.00pm
– information here and here

'Staggerlee Wonders', 8th December 2016Billed as “an evening of radical poetry and prose fused with free improvised music”, this event’s title is taken from James Baldwin’s blazingly scornful, almost conversational poem – itself named for the black outlaw/hoodlum who flits and thunders through a set of conflicting American tales and songs, taking on the roles of murderer, proud badass, pimp and more.

In all cases, Stagger Lee’s become a byword and signifier for transgressive black resistance to cultural pressure and norms. A lengthy lope in a thickly jazzy, declamatory style, Baldwin’s version takes up the final, revolutionary Stagger Lee position, setting aside the thuggery, choosing instead to weigh up the protests, delusions and not-so-secret wickednesses of white hegemony in one Afro-American palm (seamed with exile, scepticism and righteous ire) before firing up his sardonic, acidic tongue to flay and spit the flesh right off their bones. It’s not clear whether Baldwin’s take will be performed as the evening’s centrepiece, or whether it simply serves as an inspiration; but it certainly sets the bar high, both artistically and politically.

Various performers, both black and white, are confirmed to attend. Hopefully, they’ll all rise to the explicit challenge. Reknowned for his weighty slowhand approach, jazz pianist Robert Mitchell has worked with Epiphany3, F-ire Collective and Panacea. Jazz/folktronicist Corey Mwamba plays small instruments, dulcimer and electronics across assorted projects but is best known for his highly dynamic, hammers-to-humming vibraphone playing and for the ongoing questioning spirit which he explores in both live music and academia (and any intersections he can make between the two). Voices come from restless, movement performer and polygenre singer Elaine Michener (recently seen at the Cockpit Theatre in a quartet with Alexander Hawkins) and from storytelling singer/composer Debbie Sanders (currently heading up Mina Minou Productions, previously embedded in proto-acid-jazz, trip-hop and British R&B via work with Skylab and Chapter & The Verse).

Bass and drums are provided by two stunning soloists who also happen to make up one of London music’s most formidable rhythm partnerships. Both double bass player John Edwards and drummer Mark Sanders are capable of a breadth of sound and attack on their respective instruments, running across an orchestral breadth from whisper to hailstone attack (via conversation or monologue, from growling belligerence to kidding conversation or querying patter).

More people may be showing up to play, but that’s already a pretty thrilling loose sextet to work with and to choose from.

* * * * * *

Trio Generations is an intermittent name for a convocation of three top European improvisers, Maggie Nichols, Lisa Ullén and Matilda Rolfsson. Formed last year, they’re playing a couple of English shows to bookend the upcoming weekend. Outlines below, mostly from the Café Oto pages:

Trio Generations, 2016

Trio Generations, 2016

Maggie Nicols joined London’s legendary Spontaneous Music Ensemble in 1968 as a free improvisation vocalist. She then became active running voice workshops with an involvement in local experimental theatre. She later joined the group Centipede, led by Keith and Julie Tippets and in 1977, with musician/composer Lindsay Cooper, formed the remarkable Feminist Improvising Group. She lives in Wales and continues performing and recording challenging and beautiful work, in music and theatre, either in collaborations with a range of artists (Irene Schweitzer, Joelle Leandre, Ken Hyder, Caroline Kraabel) as well as solo.

Matilda Rolfsson is a Swedish percussionist and free improviser, based in Trondheim, Norway. During the spring of 2015 she was temporarily based in London where she finished her masters in free improvisation and the relationship between improvised music and dance at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. During her London stay Matilda got the chance to meet and play with some of Londons most efficient improvisers: Phil Minton, Sylvia Hallett and London Improvisers Orchestra with Maggie Nichols. With her 20” vintage Gretsch bass drum, Tibetan bowls, gongs, bells and plastic isolations, sticks, fingers and brushes, Matilda explores the free improvisation and the instant compositions shaped in the moment: dynamics, orchestrations – structure and chaos. To make rules and break rules, always with the question: where’s the music going, and where’s the freedom?

“Pianist Lisa Ullén grew up in the northern part of Sweden, and is based in Stockholm. A versatile player with a singular musical vision, Lisa has repeatedly proven her ability to imprint her absolute sense for tonal texture on whatever musical context she appears in. Besides working as a soloist and leader of her own groups, Lisa has collaborated extensively with many well-known Swedish artists and dancers, and has also scored several dramatic productions. She’s also performed and recorded music by contemporary composers.”
 
To provide a sense of what might be coming, here’s the full half-hour set from their debut performance at IKLECTIK in 2015: a fractured, prolonged collective improvisation which swaps mood, pace and suggestions like a game of speed poker, with passing shreds of blues. Although Lisa and Matilda match her with lethally-aimed flinders of explosive, challenging percussion and piano, Maggie remains the centre of attention via a performance that’s as much stand-up comedy or theatre piece as it is free jazz. She produces not only the clucks, hisses, pants and operatics of free-voice improv but a bewildering spiky cavalcade of female voices and archetypes (hopeful chitterer, wise sly crone, mother in labour, put-upon wailer, deft gossiper) while including fleeting lyrics from jazz, blues or music hall and assorted Dada twists (including a phase which sounds like a demonic toothbrushing session).


 

This month’s Trio Generations dates:

  • Xposed Club @ Francis Close Hall, University of Gloucestershire, Swindon Road, Cheltenham, GL50 4AZ, England, Friday 9th December 2016, 8.00pm (with Chris Cundy) – information
  • Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England, Monday 11th December 2016, 8.00pminformation

At the Café Oto show, John Edwards will be joining in to make the group a quartet. While there’s no support act at Oto, at the Xposed Club Cheltenham reedsman/multi-instrumentalist Chris Cundy will be providing a solo slot on bass clarinet and saxophone. A tactile extended-technique player, Chris began as a self-taught Medway busker coming into his own under the combined influence of Eric Dolphy (on record) and Billy Childish (in the flesh and in the kitchen). Following a relocation to Cheltenham to pursue fine art, Chris has broadened his scope into a world of other collaborations in film, electronica, free improvisation and pop. He’s worked extensively with Fyfe Dangerfield (as part of the Guillemots horn section and as an integral member of Gannets), with Canadian freak-folkers Timbre Timbre and a succession of left-field singer-songwriters. His extended techniques (including multi-phonics, circular breathing and microtonality) have also led him into exploring the works of Cage and Cardew and those of contemporary avant-garde composers such as Thanos Chrysakis and Pete M Wyer, as well as producing a growing number of albums of his own work.


 

August 2016 – upcoming gigs – three-date British tour of saz balladry by Aşıq Nargile (plus choral fizz, oddrock and pedal steel strangeness from Tut Vu Vu, Muldoon’s Picnic and Heather Leigh – 2nd-4th); Hackney Colliery Band & Bring Your Own Brass kick off Borderless in London (2nd)

30 Jul

In between appearances at the WOMAD and Supernormal festivals, Georgian saz player and singer Aşıq Nargile is embarking on a three-date British microtour in August, calling in at points in Scotland, Yorkshire and London.

Aşıq Nargile

In case you’re looking at the picture and thinking (lazily) “another girl folk singer”, it’s worth noting that “Aşıq” is an honorific, not a forename. It denotes a particular type of traditional Georgian bard, multilingual and mobile, who travels through the country’s diverse regions as vessels for music, news, concepts and culture both old and new. (A little like a Caucasian version of a West African griot, although perhaps without the satirical upsetter elements).

Originally from the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, Nargile Mehtiyeva has carried the cosmopolitan traditions of her home town with her, but has chosen to base herself in the southern Borcali region. For the moment, she’s the only female aşıq at work there. A trilingual singer and player of the saz lute since her mid-teens, she’s now both a teacher of the traditional forms and (via the Sayat Nova initiative) an ambassador for Georgian culture. Her concerts involve interlocking musicality and literacy – a “vocal recital of epic folk poetry (in) Azerbaijani, Georgian, and Russian… by turns ecstatic and deeply expressive… interspersed with bursts of virtuosic, highly ornamented saz.” in the shape of “moving laments or upbeat folk dances.” For those who don’t speak any of those languages, the shows are still musically sensual experiences – propulsive and silvery cascades of wiry stringwork, accompanied by a vocal like an elastic lassoo and the stately assurance of someone backed up by a couple of thousand years of heritage.


 
Tour dates are as follows:

  • The Old Hairdressers, 23 Renfield Lane, Glasgow G2 6PH, Scotland, Tuesday 2nd August 2016, 7.30pm (supported by Tut Vu Vu + Muldoon’s Picnic) – information
  • Delius Arts & Cultural Centre, 29 Great Horton Road, Bradford, BD7 1AA, England, Wednesday 3rd August 2016…. (+ support act t.b.c.) – information here and here
  • The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, England, Thursday 4th August 2016, 7.30pm (with Heather Leigh) – information

While the Bradford gig is solo, the Glasgow show sees Nargile playing as part of a splendidly adventurous and diverse triple bill alongside two very different Glaswegian groups who have next to nothing in common bar their musicality.

Despite their cosy and informal appearance, a name that comes from drunken Irish misadventure, a repertoire reaching from “the sublime to the ridiculous” and their emphasis on fun and friendship in singing, acapella group Muldoon’s Picnic unites a number of very dedicated and talented Glasgow-based singer and scholars. Its six or seven regular members (not least in-house arranger Katy L. Cooper) have already made their mark in a brace of other vocal ensembles – Trembling Bells spin-off Crying Lion, Glasgow Madrigirls, The Four Hoarse Men, Voicebeat, Voicemale, Sang Scule, and “barbershop-prog” group Honey & The Herbs – plus more church, chapel, cathedral, workplace and community choirs than you could shake a stave at. As for that repertoire, it embraces gospel, shanties, Scots ballads, English carols, Afro-American spirituals, sacred harp songs, Victorian parlour music and music hall songs and assorted pieces cast up and circulated by the world music movement. Where other choral groups dabble, this one delves. The songs are sung not just in English but in other tongues of the British Isles (Scots Gaelic, Cornish, Manx and Welsh) and further afield: Breton, southern African Sotho, Ugandan Luganda and eastern European languages (Bulgarian, Croatian and Georgian – in the latter’s polyphonic music, they touch base with Nargile.)


 

The third act on the Glasgow bill, Tut Vu Vu, play their dark-browed and looming electrophonic instrumentals in a cloud of disinformation. When someone compares them to Anaïs Nin and David Lynch and they claim that it’s all a misunderstanding; someone else mentions musique concrète and they respond with askance, amused looks. When given the chances to set things straight, they deliver misleading mission statements filled with science fiction technogabble about phased plasma and hydrogen sulphide. What’s demonstrably true is that they’re an alliance of Glasgow art-punks who’ve already been around a decade’s cycle of experimental groups – Iban Perez in The Sparkling Shadazz, Rags & Feathers and A Rhythmtic) Raydale Dower, Matthew Black and Jamie Bolland in rattling theatricalists Uncle John & Whitelock.

Expect something of an oblique and inscrutable wall between the quartet’s current work and their previous brainy trash-lungings. A band apparently in search of a new dialect (while drawing on assorted shredded utterances from Krautrock, Beefheart, ‘90s rave or ‘80s arsequake) a typical TVV track can be a bizarre collage of muffled falsetto wails and feedback drones, of layered tribal toms and analogue-synth bass-farts, of approaching-horns guitar shapes; all of which is cunningly and immediately sculpted for maximum enigmatic impact, rather than being tossed out of the speakers for someone else to sweep up.




 

In London, Nargile is playing a double header gig with Heather Leigh. One of the most unconventional pedal steel guitarists in contemporary music, Heather belies her traditional country music heritage (a West Virginia birth, a descent from coal miners) and instead reinvents both her instrument and her voice as a conduit for strange and ghostly improvisations. Aided by cruel amplifier tones and strange, skittering, instinctive hand techniques, her compositions emerge like spectral possessions of strings, pedals, larynx and language. Often touching on themes of trauma, abuse and hidden, subjective experience, Heather’s eerie and disturbing work has already led her to collaborations with Peter Brötzmann, Jandek, Thurston Moore and plenty of others since her emergence in the 1990s.




 
* * * * * * * *

August also sees the start of Borderless, a delightfully rambling live music series at Battersea Arts Centre running roughly parallel to the Olympic Games in Rio. Run in collaboration with GOAT Music (set up last year by former Roundhouse music bosses David Gaydon and Lou Birkett) it aim to showcase “the UK’s best homegrown talent and unique artists from around the globe, in the intimate and beautiful setting of the Council Chamber… Borderless will provide an alternative cross-cultural celebration. Samba to tropical beats, dance to Afrobeat legends, skank to reggae and let the new generation of jazz take you to another place. Break down the borders and shuffle your feet to global rhythms to hear the biggest tunes from all over the planet. We’ll also provide a platform for the freshest artists and exciting talent currently taking the UK by storm. Hear the artists sound tracking the underground scene, dominating the airwaves and paving the way for the alternative UK music scene.”

Glad to hear it. Bring it on. What do you have?

GOAT Music and Battersea Arts Centre present:
Borderless: Hackney Colliery Band + Bring Your Own Brass
Battersea Arts Centre, Lavender Hill, Battersea, London, SW11 5TN, England
Tuesday 2nd August 2016, 8.00pm
information

Hearing about Hackney Colliery Band initially caught me between hackles and chuckles. For a moment, I thought it was about taking the piss out of a great and still-living industrial British art form while cynically attempting to replace it. After all, when there are still genuine colliery bands maintaining the tradition across old mining heartlands from Tyneside to Derbyshire, Shropshire to Leicestershire and the Rhondda Valley (and dotted across the Yorkshire pitscape from Grimethorpe to Dinnington, Frickley to Queensbury) why would you want to substitute them with a slick London parody? On the other hand, my sense of the absurd soon kicked in – since Hackney’s been sprouting all kinds of cartoonish artisan features for the past decade (from craft beer to boutique muffins and shoes), why not an ersatz coal mine?

As it happens, HCB have got little to do with any of this. The name’s a little dab of post-modern British showbiz and the band (excellent, by the way) don’t stick to the grand dignity and mournfulness of colliery music, being more of an omnivorous brass beast immersed in and rejigging a variety of horn-party traditions from jazz, r&b, funk and others, including New Orleans tunes from both fun and funerals. Much the same can be said of the support act, Bring Your Own Brass – a band who, as “up-and-coming brass hip-hop ripsnorters”, have been known to parp out a Rakim cover or two. If this makes them sounds like a novelty act, they aren’t. Sound and vision reveal them to be well-scrubbed, well-studied white disciples of a wide span of styles, clambering over Afrobeat, rap, funk and marching-band ideas with head-bopping panache.

Recently, both bands seem to have cornered the market in boutique festivals and showbiz event (between them they’ve got Olympic Games and Brit/Mercury award appearances under their belts, as well as shows at Ally Pally, with slots at Wilderness, Stow and Meatopia to come later in August for BYOB and a hefty European tour for HCB). HCB’s previous set at the MOBO awards suggests that they can impress at a formal roots level as well, unless it was a case of contacts trumping authenticity. Just as long as bands like these aren’t crowding out bands like Kokoroko; although BYOB’s teamup with Bristolian rapper and slam poet Solomon O.B (see below) suggests that, as far as fellow musicians are concerned, there aren’t any practical or philosophical problems.



 

July 2016 – upcoming and ongoing gigs – some pickings from the Frome Festival, west of England (1st-10th)

2 Jul

While I missed the chance to plug the Sin Eater Festival a few weeks ago, I’m just about in time for the modest fireworks which herald the Frome Festival in Wiltshire.

I’m too late to plug the opening party (in which Frome’s own electro-poppers Sweet Machine shared a bill with psychedelic synth-cabarettier, rock biographer and all-round performance character Alan Clayson); I don’t have much to say about the festival’s big-draw act Reef (currently enjoying a new revival of their original ‘90s revival of 70s blues-rock); and I feel sorry that the free gig by “ukular fusion” band The Mother Ukers doesn’t involve furious Mahavishnukulele jazz shredding (instead of being a variation on banjo-happy rockgrass covers). But there’s plenty more on offer, so here are a few other things picked out from the billing.

It’s by no means everything on offer (the festival’s full of visual art, talks and theatre; there’s plenty more jazz and classical; and there’s a show by Billy Bragg which will probably take care of itself) but these represent the bits-between-the-bits which are closest to ‘Misfit City’s natural constituency (if such a thing exists).

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The Magical Folk Garden @ The Archangel, 1 King Street, Frome, BA11 1BH, England
Tuesday 5th-Friday 8th July 2016, 7.30pm each night
– information: Tuesday 5th / Wednesday 6th / Thursday 7th / Friday 8th

At the upstairs room at the Archangel pub, The Magical Folk Garden continues to turn itself into an annual institution with a series of cushion-strewn/standing-room-only unplugged gigs, creating a “euphonious forest of folk and contemporary acoustic music from some of the UK’s finest talents.” It’s all pretty well-scrubbed and tasteful – there’s nothing to scare the horses here. That said, a few of the performers might own horses, and some might whisper them; while a few might go all ‘Poldark’ and ride off on one, bareback and bare-chested, a honey-coloured guitar bouncing up and down on the withers (it all probably depends on the state of the booze and the pollen count).

The Tuesday show features two Bath acts – lit-pop cello-and-guitar duo The Bookshop Band and romantic solo-balladeer Tom Corneill – plus the sunny pure-pop/psychedelic fizz of Trowbridge’s The Pigeons.


The Wednesday show has a band-backed performance from Frome’s Al O’Kane (a gravel-and-honey country-blues-folker who, with his mix of rolling American roots guitar and British mysticism, can come across as a one-man ‘Led Zeppelin III’). Also playing are Alex Taylor (bouncy, jazz-and-funk-tinged, broadening his sound and filling out his pockets with pedals and loops) and young songwriter Emma Shoosmith, whose output has ranged from thoughtful folkified Taylor Swift covers to the lilting ska-tinted song shown below.




 

The Thursday show has a chamber-folk air. Bookshop Band multi-instrumentalist Beth Porter returns with her own augmented-string quartet band The Availables and her own clutch of intricate literary songs. Also on board are the strings, percussion rustles and detailed guitar of Rivers Of England (fronted by Rob Spaulding) who, although they take on some pretty familiar modern folk tropes, land them in an interesting marginal territory in which the early-’70s John Martyn and the early-’80s Julian Cope sit down to exchange lines and tips. The bill’s completed by the lost-boy charm of Avebury singer-songwriter (and Nick Harper protégé) George Wilding with his warm, abstracted songs of distraction and heartbreak (simultaneously soothing and haunting).




 

The Friday folk-final involves wayward Bristol-and-Bath folk septet The Cedar. Beth Porter makes her third Magical Folk Garden appearance of the week as the band’s cellist, alongside five other musicians. Playing a variety of instruments and implements (from guitar, glockenspiel, viola, organ and ukulele to calculator, screwdriver, musical and tri-square) they weave Neil Gay’s slightly distracted songs into a musical fabric that’s sometimes Belle-&-Sebastian communal, sometimes music-school precise, and sometimes as frayed as a scrap-basket oddment.

The rest of the evening gently mixes Western with Western. Accompanying herself on guitar, baritone ukulele, harmonium or shruti box, Bradford-on-Avon’s Jess Vincent delivers a set of original country-folk songs with a sound and demeanour that’s seen her compared to both Iris DeMent and Kate Bush. Evening openers Ali George and Ruby Brown do their own take on Gram-and-Emmylou duets, filtered through Ali’s trunkful of original English folk/clawhammer guitar songs.




 

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The town’s Rook Lane Chapel arts centre is hosting plenty of events. These two in particular caught my ear:

Snowapple
Rook Lane Chapel, Bath Street, Frome, BA11 1DN, England
Thursday 7th July 2016, 7:30pm
information

Snowapple is an outstanding female harmony trio from Amsterdam who draw on folk, classical and chanson influences, in unique, charming and beautiful arrangements of original songs. Having sold out the Granary for the last two years, Snowapple have earned a reputation all over Europe and the US, and this year appear in the perfect setting of Rook Lane Arts.”

Praying For The Rain
Rook Lane Chapel, Bath Street, Frome, BA11 1DN, England
Friday 8th July 2016, 8.00pm
information

From the blurb: “Known for their dynamic and compelling live performances, Praying For The Rain blend contemporary folk, Celtic and world music with irresistible rhythms, memorable melodies, beautifully crafted vocals and inspired musicianship. Their music brings to mind a modern blend of Crosby, Stills and Nash, Robert Plant, to Fleet Foxes and the Dave Matthews Band, creating a truly uplifting experience. Following last year’s sell out concert, Praying for the Rain return to Rook Lane for Frome Festival 2016. Expect an exhilarating night of high energy, movement and wonderfully engaging songs.“

I’m sure I remember Praying For The Rain from when I was a regular at Martyn Swain’s wonderful Dreamhouse acoustic nights, a refuge of warm bohemian chic and unplugged music alongside the Splash Club in scuzzy mid-’90s Kings Cross. These were the same shows at which I was delighted by up-close performances from Marcy Detroit, Simons Warner and Whitaker and many more… there’s a little bit about Dreamhouse here, since someone’s been writing a crowdfunded book about the Splash years (and you can still pitch in to help it). Dreamhouse was the kind of night where you could expect table candles and belly dancing interludes most weeks; but during their own slot, Praying For The Rain completely overflowed the little Water Rats stage with finger-cymbals, accordions, cellos, cirrus-band harmonies and what seemed like about ten people on whispering percussion, temporarily transforming the place to a full-on New Age folk temple.

Although they seem rather more bluesy and straightforward-rootsy than I remember through the gauzes of memory, it’s good to see that they’ve lasted the twenty-year distance and garnered themselves a new up-to-date list of comparisons.


 
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Over at the Granary, there’s a semi-unplugged triple bill and a visit from a ‘Misfit City’ favourite.

Three Is The Magic Number presents:
Three Corners + Molly Ross + Gum Girl
The Granary @ The George Hotel, 4 Market Place, Frome, BA11 1AF, England
Friday 8th July 2016, 8.00pm
– free/pay-what-you-like

Regular Frome-and-Wiltshire unplugged night Acoustic Plus takes on a new identity for this three-act bill of “original songs, haunting vocals, mesmeric music” celebrating a diversity of approach via three different acts. Molly Ross offers fledgling piano pop touches on folk and R&B; Three Corners (with their roots in 1980s new-wavers The Impossible Dreamers, and featuring ex-Dreamers Nick Waterhouse and Caroline Radcliffe) play sparse, questing songs around more of a loose blues-and-jazz-informed tip; but the one I find most interesting is the dreamy beat’n’texture pop of Gum Girl.




 
Arch Garrison
The Granary @ The George Hotel, 4 Market Place, Frome, BA11 1AF, England
Saturday 9th July 2016, 8.00pm
– information http://cheeseandgrain.ticketsolve.com/shows/873554307

As Arch Garrison, North Sea Radio Orchestra mastermind Craig Fortnam and Stars In Battledress‘ James Larcombe explore gentle, intricate psychedelic folk: partly gentle clean chapel tones, partly kosmische textures, partly chalk-ridge geomancy. A duo of Craig’s nylon-strung acoustic guitar and James’ assorted keyboards (organ, monosynth, harmonium and piano), their two albums’ worth of songs have enabled Craig to bring the smaller and more personal songs he writes to life, when they don’t fit the grander feel of NSRO. Their ‘Will Be A Pilgrim‘ album was one of my favourites of 2014 – an unexpected gem of small voice and thinking space. Support comes from local favourites Dexter’s Extra Breakfast, playing Dave Clark’s soft-petalled and “Weltschmerzian” songs of middle-aged reflection.

 

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John D Revelator
The Griffin, 25 Milk Street, Frome, BA11 3DB, England
Saturday 9th July 2016, 8.00pm
– free event

At the Griffin, John D Revelator will be bringing along their dark-tinged acoustic swamp-pop for a free show. Even if there’s not actually such a thing as the “Somerset Levels delta”, they’ll lie to their last tooth and their last busted guitar string trying to persuade you that it does exist.


 

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Towards the end of the festival, the second of Frome’s two substantial concert halls is offering two very different performances on the same day. One is a post-lunchtime concert of vividly Catalonian Spanish classical music from the twentieth century; the other is an evening show of polymusical fusion from an all-star collective trio.

Elena Riu & Clara Sanabras: ’A Taste Of Spain’
Cooper Hall @ Selwood Manor, Jacks Lane, Frome, BA11 3NL, England
Saturday 9th July 2016, 1.00pm
information

Pianist Elena Riu and singing multi-instrumentalist Clara Sanabras (the latter on voice, harp, oud, charango and guitar) perform selections from the ‘Songs & Dances’ of Catalan impressionist/miniaturist composer Federico Mompou and the ‘Spanish Dances’ of his compatriot Enrique Granados, interspersed with Clara’s performances of the original Catalan folk songs on which Mompou drew.

Birdworld
Cooper Hall @ Selwood Manor, Jacks Lane, Frome, BA11 3NL, England
Saturday 9th July 2016, 8.30pm
– information http://cheeseandgrain.ticketsolve.com/shows/873554308

“Birdworld is made up of musicians Adam Teixeira (drums/percussion), Gregor Riddell (cello/electronics); and Alex Stuart (guitar). The project came about when Gregor and Adam met during self-directed Banff Creative Residencies where they discovered a shared interest in blending electronic and acoustic sounds. Since Adam moved to the UK in 2014 they have continued to develop BirdWorld, adding Alex along the way. Combining their artistic voices as both instrumentalists and composers, the trio will showcase each members original compositions arranged specifically for this unique musical exchange. Creating a unified sound that blends the inspirations of modern jazz, world music, contemporary classical, rock and electronic music in a rare concert setting.”

Here’s a video of the original two-piece in action, to give you two-thirds of an idea of what might be on offer.

 

June 2016 – upcoming London gigs – four for Saturday 18th (Glass, Matthew Bourne, Darren Morris, and The Leaf Library at Daylight Music; Tanya Tagaq soundtracks ‘Nanook of the North’ at the Forge; Rock Candy Girlz & Malcolm Bruce at MAP Studio Café; the Pussywarmers at Wilton’s)

16 Jun

An interesting London Saturday is coming up, with music ranging from shattering electronic jazz to faintly worrying lounge music and psychedelic pop; pipe organ explorations to Inuit vocalese; transfigured electropop to sing-alongs and drone-strumentals… with the odd dancing gorilla and shocking pink hairpiece showing up too.

More below…

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Daylight Music 228, 18th June 2016

Arctic Circle presents:
Daylight Music 228 (‘Electric Dreams’): Glass + Matthew Bourne + Darren Morris + The Leaf Library
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 18th June 2016, 12.00pm
– free event (suggested donation – £5.00) – information

“Daylight Music goes electronic this week with three superb acts.

“Rising pop duo Glass are set for big things in 2016. Their spectacularly roaring body of work and captivating live shows have seen them hotly tipped as ‘ones to watch’ by The Maccabees, Huw Stephens and Tom Robinson. Jessica Winter’s haunting, enunciated vocals and Scott Rimington’s other-worldly guitar break-outs meet to create a language all of its own, underpinned with pummeling grooves, meticulous synth lines and addictive ear-worm hooks. Today they’ll be playing an acoustic set.

“With a reputation as a fearlessly unpredictable pianist and composer, multi-award-winning musician Matthew Bourne is a passionate explorer of sound, possessed of a burning desire to make music on anything old, broken or infirm. Renowned for his intensely personal and sometimes confrontational solo work, his uncanny ability to balance delicacy and virtuosity – while establishing a close affinity with his audience – have become hallmarks of his concert performances. He has his fingerprints on a huge number of projects, having worked with artists as diverse as John Zorn, Annette Peacock, Nils Frahm, Nostalgia 77, Broadway Project, and Amon Tobin.

In the last year, Matthew set up a studio in his rural West Yorkshire home in order to capture the spontaneous moments of inspiration his concerts have become famed for. With a nod to the pioneering work of Annette Peacock and Paul Bley, he has turned his considerable talents to the world of analogue synthesisers; arming himself with an arsenal of vintage electronics, tape delays and a creaky harmonium alongside his trusty piano and cello, and preparing for a period of intense and varied activity in his own name after many years of collaboration. Growing from improvised live performances, new compositions have taken shape in the studio as Bourne explored and moulded the vast sonic possibilities of voltage-controlled oscillators.

“The seed for this project was planted when Matthew acquired an uncooperative 1982 Memorymoog, having it painstakingly modified and upgraded by Rudi Linhard in Germany. Created without the use of computers or sequencers, ‘moogmemory’ is the first album to be recorded using only the Lintronics Advanced Memorymoog. This process also served as a pathway to another of his current projects, ‘Radioland: Radio-Activity Revisited’, a visceral live audio/visual experience created to mark the 40th anniversary of Kraftwerk’s seminal Radio-Activity album. In collaboration with electronic composer Franck Vigroux and installation artist Antoine Schmitt, ‘Radioland…’ sees him pushing his work with synthesisers into uncompromising new territory, as earth-shattering bass frequencies are contrasted with moments of eerie near-silence.

“The intriguing Darren Morris worked as a producer and musician for twenty years (with the likes of David Holmes, Tim Goldsworthy, Ashley Beedle) and he’s currently touring with former Beta Band-er Steve Mason. He’s been performing live as a professional musician for over fifteen years, playing keyboards, synths, and bass with a variety of artists including Gabrielle, Sugardaddy (side project of Groove Armada’s Tom Findlay), and Robin Hitchcock. He has a background in improvisation, working alongside many well-respected and influential players on the London improv scene such as Veryan Weston, Hugh Metcalfe, Sibyl Madrigal, Lol Coxhill, Gail Brand, Jon Edwards and Mark Sanders. Today, Darren will be playing the Chapel’s glorious 125-year old Henry Willis organ.”

Just noting that Darren isn’t a stranger to this particular instrument… Here’s the outcome of one of his previous encounters, plus an explanation:


 

“(This) started out as a ninety-minute improvisation, performed on the amazing organ that lives in the Union Chapel Islington. I was just zoning into the instrument and the building it breathes in, traveling through various pockets of 20th century western concert music, modal ’50s jazz, glimpses of Sun Ra, Terry Riley, daydreaming of space and psychedelic films here and there. The recording wasn’t anything special but it was easy to get sucked back in on listening back. I haven’t been able to leave it alone. For a few weeks I’ve been chipping away at it, adding a sort of electronic orchestra of synthesizers and string machines. I hope this album can make you believe it was all there at that moment, being recorded and witnessed. Maybe I’ll get this space orchestra together one day and return to the Union Chapel for a rather extraordinary gig. Hope you can be there!”

Back to the press release:

“There’ll also be improvised electronics from The Leaf Library, whose drone-pop love songs are particular Daylight favourites. If that wasn’t enough watch out for a special appearance by The Action Men who will bring their EU-topian roboto dance vision to our stage.”



 

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Tanya Tagaq @ The Forge, 18th June 2016

Tigmus and The Nest Collective present:
Tanya Tagaq in concert with ‘Nanook of the North’
The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, England
Saturday 18th June 2016, 7.30pm
– information here and here

“Award-winning Inuit vocalist Tanya Tagaq, known for her intense, evocative style based on traditional throat singing, performs a live accompaniment to Robert Flaherty’s controversial 1922 silent film Nanook of the North. Joined by percussionist Jean Martin and violinist Jesse Zubot, Tagaq reclaims the film’s images of life in an early twentieth-century Inuit community in Northern Quebec. This is not an experimental performance to be missed.

“Commissioned by the Toronto Film Festival, Tagaq’s work with Nanook began with a sonic exploration of the film’s imagery. With her own sense of the sounds of places shown in the film, she transforms its images, adding feeling and depth to what is a complex mix of poignant representations and racially charged clichés. The film, one of the world’s first major works of non-fiction filmmaking, is rife with contradictions. Flaherty lived and worked with Inuit communities for many years, and yet he included staged scenes of buffoonery and feigned Inuit ignorance of modern technology and accoutrements.”

Tanya’s own comments on the project:

“Everyone will take what they want from it. I have no intention of spoon feeding people what they need to know. Yet, hopefully, via coaxing and innuendo and emotion, I can elevate people’s consciousness of Inuit culture, and of culture in general. I can take a small bite out of the underground racism against Inuit and Aboriginal people. I have faith that if people are educated about what’s actually happening, and if people believe, it can be fixed. But you have to acknowledge the bad to sprout the good.”

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MAP Live Lounge, 18th June 2016Rock Candy Management present:
MAP Live Lounge: Rock Candy Girlz + Malcolm Bruce
MAP Studio Café, 46 Grafton Road, Kentish Town, London, NW5 3DU, England
Saturday 18th June 2016, 7.30pm

Saturday Live Lounge at MAP Café is a regular night of eclectic live music. It’s hosted by Rock Candy Girlz, a three-piece West London band featuring members of ‘90s charting band Amazulu who do “quirky interpretations of classic songs” in a lively glammed-up fashion. I’m usually left cold by this kind of Scissor Sisters thing – the crowd-pleasing cover versions, the high-camp glow, the pink wigs etc (although I’m a secret slut for dressing up) – but the Girlz’ wit and roguery win me over. Here they are doing a Kylie Minogue cover. Underneath that is a trailer for the first Live Lounge, sans glad rags, which shows that some people aren’t remotely slowed, subdued or suppressed by middle age. Good on them. If I could muster half of this kind of charisma, people would be falling over themselves to read the blog.


Their special guest this week is multi-instrumentalist and classic rock scion Malcolm Bruce, son of Cream’s Jack Bruce and grafter in a number of different musical zones (rock, jazz-rock, folk) since his mid-teens. It’s hard not to talk about Malcolm without reference to his dad, since Malcolm’s musicality reveals some of the genetic and cultural debt he owes to Jack. They share a similar singing voice (a forceful high-rise tenor which ranges from pugnacious to yearning), and Malcolm paid some of his dues as the guitarist in Jack’s band. Also, he can – and sometimes does – work some of the same musical seams that his father did.

However, Malcolm’s Soundcloud page reveals him as a softer, more intimate songwriter and interpreter than Jack was – touched by a more lucent strand of Celtic romanticism (as with Brian Kennedy, Van Morrison, Paul Buchanan), annealed by a touch of the sensibilities of another great ’60s white rhythm-and-blues star (Steve Winwood) and counterbalanced with judicious dashes of technical smarts and abilities (an accomplished acoustic folk guitarist, he’s also a lyrical, Satriani-esque electric hard rock player with arena sensibilities). Here are a couple of tracks from an EP he’s putting together for a Pledge Music crowdfunder goodie, as an enticement to help record his forthcoming album. One’s a straight folk lovesong, another’s a version of Purcell’s ‘Dido’s Lament’.



 

Regarding the latter, it’s tough to go up against some of the existing pop versions which this beautiful tune has spawned over the years (including grand, soaring counter-tenor renditions from Klaus Nomi and Jeff Buckley, and the heart-melting voice-and-piano folk version Barbara Dickson and Troy Donockley performed on ‘Full Circle’) but Malcolm approaches his own arrangement with pluck and honesty. It’s also a tricky task to switch between baroque lute elegance and full-blooded pomp rock – let alone fold a brand new anti-war song into the second half – without resulting in a hamfisted mess. Yet somehow Malcolm manages to pull it off and cover all of the necessary bases.

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Babel Festival of Literature & Translation presents:
The Pussywarmers
Wilton’s Music Hall, 1 Graces Alley, Whitechapel, London, E1 8JB, England
Saturday 18th June 2016, 9.00pm
information

This in from Wilton’s:

The Pussywarmers bring you a lively mixture of music from the dope’n’glory jazz era of the mid-1920s. With horns, upright bass banjo and many more acoustic instruments, they have a wild and dusty character… plus trumpets. Cosmically bound to their Hungarian ladyfriend Réka, spasmodically accompanied on their travels by unpredictable trumpeters, The Pussywarmers – originally from the Mediterranean district of Switzerland – have spread their credo all over the continent. Indeed, audiences of all ages have fallen under their spell – a charming and obscure concoction of melodies that stubbornly eludes all attempts at a definition but which is leaving ever more gig-goers indefinably warmhearted.”

This doesn’t actually cover the half of it. What it doesn’t mention is this band’s teasing, wayward unknowability; their honey-sliding psychedelic atmospheres (like a half-cut Mamas & The Papas if they’d been woozily rebounding from the Haight); their playful lack of embarrassment and their apparent attachment to the Dada of their hometown. All of this can be seen in the video for their song ‘Young Men Living’, which blends Freud, Godard and Melanie Klein into three minutes and forty-three second of messy-play picnic.

If you’d prefer something less psychosexual, the video for Sunrise sees the band dancing blankly across Swiss hilltops in colour-bleached film stock; which, to a Brit, is going to look like a teasing ’70s memory from childhood forays onto BBC2. (Then again, if you’re not wanting something psychosexual, perhaps you shouldn’t be checking out a group called The Pussywarmers…)

The band is appearing as part of the tenth Babel Festival of Literature & Translation, described as “(a) unique border-crossing event (with) its own special brand of linguistic hospitality… a celebration of voices, rhythms, linguistic diversity, creolisation and hybridisation.” Usually based in Switzerland, it’s celebrating its decennial in London and at Wilton’s instead, bringing a day of “readings from writers and translators spanning China, Mexico, Poland, Bosnia, Switzerland and the USA.” . Full info on the whole event is here if you fancy making a fuller day of it.
 

December 2015 – some musical Christmas parties, London – Fire Records (with the Jazz Butcher Quartet); The Glass Child’s online Christmas show; Memphis Industries’ Lost Christmas (with Dutch Uncles, The Go! Team, Menace Beach, Outfit, NZCA/Lines & slug); Gare Du Nord’s Arrivée/Départ II (a Viennese whirl with Martin Klein, Bon Bon Beast, Hefner escapees and many others); Arctic Circle’s Santas in Space (with Camden Voices, Left With Pictures, Laish & boy and a balloon); Baba Yaga’s Hut (with Bad Guys, Melting Hand, Wren)

9 Dec

I’ve been posting mostly shout-outs for gigs this year, so I might just as well submit to becoming Santa’s little shill as regards this month’s sprouting of Christmas/Hannukah/seasonal parties. From the flood on my Facebook account to the rumours and snippets I hear, this is a selection of what’s on for the next week or so (just London this time, though I’ve got some gigs elsewhere ready for the follow-up…)

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Fire Records Christmas gig 2015

Fire Records Xmas Party with The Jazz Butcher Quartet + very special guest + Fire Records DJs (Servant Jazz Quarters, 10A Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England, Friday 11th December 2015, 8.00pm) – free – information here and here

The first of several gigs in this post taking place at the Servant Jazz Quarters amongst the bottles, foxes and curios. Fire Records DJs will be playing from their typically wide-ranging hoard of music, and there’ll be two sets of live music. One guest is as-yet unnamed (it’s a surprise) and the other is the latest iteration of the three working decades of absurdist Northampton-based singer-songwriter Pat Fish as The Jazz Butcher.

The Jazz Butcher Quartet sees Pat take a sideways step away from the cunningly meandering rock’n’strum that he’s generally known for, and tease the ever-present jazziness out of his songs and into full focus via a collaboration with three dedicated jazz musicians The Jazz Butcher – drummer Steve Garofalo, trumpeter Simon Taylor and double bass player Steve New. The Steves and Pat were already old buddies from their time in the Northampton music scene, in particular due to their mutual work with the magnificently wise and strange alternative folk singer Tom Hall. The result’s a refreshed acoustic take on Jazz Butcher staples, wrapping itself round the old and new tunes and the playful wandering lyrics with utter flexibility.

The evening is absolutely free, apart from the drinks, but the Servant Jazz Quarters is a small place – so show up early if you want to be able to get in. Some footage of the JBQ is below.

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Swedish singer-songwriter Charlotte Eriksson, a.k.a. The Glass Child is hosting her own Christmas gig online. It sort of fits with her itinerant nature – having left her Gothenburg home at the age of eighteen, she built up both a label and a career while sofa-surfing through London, England and Berlin. You can’t fault the girl for thrift, for ambition and for investigating the art of the possible while living out of a suitcase. Playing a big interactive gig, but from nowhere in particular, certainly suits her style so far.

The Glass Child Christmas StageIt Show (online, Sunday 13th December 2015, 7.00pm CET) – pay-what-you-can – information & tickets

Charlotte’s own message:

Christmas, my children, is not a date. It’s a state of mind. December 13th is the day that Swedes celebrate “Lucia”, which basically means Swedish Christmas songs, gingerbread, tons and tons of candles, mulled wine (Swedish Glögg) and cosiness all around. Basically all of my favourite things!

Lucia is an ancient mythical figure with an abiding role as a bearer of light in the dark Swedish winters. The many Lucia songs all have the same theme: “The night treads heavily around yards and dwellings / In places unreached by sun, the shadows brood. / Into our dark house she comes, bearing lighted candles, / Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia.” All Swedes know the standard Lucia song by heart, and everyone can sing it, in or out of tune. On the morning of Lucia Day, the radio plays some rather more expert renderings, by school choirs or the like. The Lucia celebrations also include ginger snaps and sweet, saffron-flavoured buns (lussekatter) shaped like curled-up cats and with raisin eyes. You eat them with glögg or coffee. (Do you guys understand why this is my favourite Swedish tradition?)

So I thought, what better way to celebrate this little Swedish Lucia day than with you! A cosy acoustic Christmas show with music, candles and maybe my first ever performance of a Swedish song. Like always: some new songs, some old songs, questions, chat and some insights behind my new album that I’m currently working on. Please join me for this evening show and we’ll create a memory worth remembering.

Some examples of Glass Child work so far are below.

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On the Tuesday and Wednesday of the following week, there’s a pair of simultaneous double-evening multi-band events happening within a mile of each other. The first of these is the Memphis Industries shindig – “two nights of festive fun” from one of the smartest small British pop labels at work today, with six bands and a host of present giveaways including limited edition art prints.

Lost Christmas @ Oslo, 14th & 15th December 2015

Lost Christmas – A Memphis Industries Christmas Special with Dutch Uncles, Outfit and NZCA LINES, The Go! Team, Menace Beach and Slug (Oslo, 1A Amhurst Road, Hackney, London, E8 1LL, England, Monday 14th and Tuesday 15th December 2015, 7.00pm) – £16.50 for each night / £30 for both nights – information & ticketsmore information

Monday night kicks things off with three of the label’s bands “art-rocking till they drop”. The striking prog-pop babble of Dutch Uncles headlines; doom-toned Liverpudlian tech-pop band Outfit play the middle set; and (following a brace of high-concept singles over the course of the year) one-man white-pop/R&B hybrid NZCA/Lines opens the show.




 

Tuesday promises “unparalleled noisy fun, and possibly sailor outfits”. Flipzoid Brighton pop crew The Go! Team headline, their lineup a little different from that of recent years but their magpie polymusical energies still intact. Leeds indie supergroup Menace Beach are in the middle; while reformed noiseniks and north-eastern eclecti-pop upsetters Slug open things up with a live band including Peter and David Brewis of Field Music.




 

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The second of the double-night events is the one run by Gare du Nord Records, a pair of concerts which have an almost familial feel, revolving around certain hub projects (Hefner, Death In Vegas), certain locations (Walthamstow, Canterbury, Vienna), certain other sympathetic labels (Fortuna Pop, Audio Antihero) and a smart, sometimes wordy aesthetic.

Arrivée/Départ II @ Servant Jazz Quarters, 14th & 15th December 2015

Arrivée/Départ II – Gare Du Nord Records 2-Night Revue (Servant Jazz Quarters, 10A Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England, Monday 14th December & Tuesday 15th December 2015, 7.30pm) – £5.00 each night – information – tickets on the door

Both nights are revues – a long main set from each of the two special Austrian guests, bolstered by short mini-sets from the other bands. There’s a lot of personnel crossover. Expect the same faces to keep popping up, reshuffled.

The Monday gig’s main set comes from Martin Klein, the Viennese singer-songwriter whose piano songs albums of and witty, deadpan performances are making him a rising star in Austria and Germany, and whose questioning, sometimes undercut romanticism should translate across further borders. Among the short sets are appearances by two former Hefner members: their frontman and prime creative force Darren Hayman and their multi-instrumentalist Jack Hayter, both now established as significant and highly individual solo songwriters (and while Darren might be the better known of the two, don’t underestimate Jack – I was enchanted by a battered set he played at Union Chapel last year).


Other players on the Monday bill are Cockney surf-punks Pit Ponies, Allo Darlin’ guitarist Paul Rains (taking a solo step-out from his main band’s classic indie-pop styles) and the “prim and improper” antifolk punksters Lucy’s Diary. There are also two acts who specialise in the soft-and-sharp – Cambridge’s Alex Highton (whose folk-, pop- and jazz-smattered songs conceal quick jabs of wit beneath their light and luscious surfaces) and Vienna-via-Canterbury trio Rotifer (creators of pitch-perfect country-tinged indie pop songs, sallies and snarks, and who also serve as a kind of scattered house band since various members play in six of the acts on offer during the night).





The Tuesday gig’s Viennese treat headliner is Bon Bon Beast – two multi-instrumental singer/producers, one of them Austrian (Ernst Tiefenthaler) and the other Swiss (Eloui), filtering their diverse past experiences into a straightforward acoustic jolly. Among the support acts, former Weather Prophets/Ellis Island Sound man Pete Astor continues his low-key live renaissance, and former Death In Vegas guitarist Ian Button brings along one of the various lineups of his psych-dusted pop project Papernut Cambridge. Since many of the people who play in the band are appearing in (or as) other acts during the evening, it’ll have been an easy roundup: Papernut Cambridge backing singer Helene Bradley, for instance, is performing a solo set as Citizen Helene (showcasing the soulful delivery and wistful irony which places her somewhere between Mama Cass and Kirsty MacColl).




 
Also playing are baroque orchestral pop songwriter Ralegh Long (presumably detached from the small orchestra which tends to follow him around) and Emma Winston’s one-woman Deerful project (miniature synths and brittle stories). Two Kentish acts round out the evening: lo-fi Canterbury pop band Picturebox and Whitstable’s Alex Williams (whose swerving career so far has encompassed indie rock with Fleeting Things, folk music with New Old World and lo-fi outsider clatter-pop with The Psychotic Reaction, as well as the odd ABC cover).




 

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I’ve been covering Daylight Music gigs for several years now, but anyone who spends much time around those will know that parent organisation Arctic Circle spreads its activities a lot wider than those Saturday afternoons at Union Chapel – and in this case, a lot higher. Over to them:

'Santas In Space' 2015

Santas in Space’ featuring Camden Voices + Left With Pictures + Laish + boy and a balloon (Arctic Circle @ ArcelorMittal Orbit, 3 Thornton Street, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford, London, E20 2AD, UK, Wednesday 16th December 2015, 6.30pm) – £15.00 – informationtickets

We return to the most spectacular venue in London to bringing our unique brand of Fuzzy Feeling to the 376 feet high platform of the Arcelormittal Orbit. With the sparkling lights of London as a spectacular backdrop, watch as the sculpture becomes an astronomic live music space celebrating the Christmas season! Camden Voices will start the night off with their thirty-strong choir proclaiming yuletide glee followed by a series of the finest fuzziest musicians from our Daylight Music series – from the chamber indie of Left With Pictures to the luscious folk of Laish and the lo-fi pop of Alex Hall’s boy and a balloon. Finish the evening by wrapping your ear around a winter-warming set from DJ Ben Eshmade (Arctic Circle Radio/Chill) with a festive drink or cocktail in hand. Please note this event is for over-18s only.


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If that last one seems to be bordering on the twee for you, another ‘Misfit City’ regular event is offering something typically noisier and rucked-up around the edges:

Bad Guys/Melting Hand/Wren @ Baba Yaga's Hut, 16th December 2015

Baba Yaga’s Hut Xmas Bash with Bad Guys, Melting Hand, Wren (Baba Yaga’s Hut @ Corsica Studios, 5 Elephant Lane, Newington, London, SE17 1LB, England, Wednesday 16th December 2015, 7.30pm) – £5.00 – informationtickets

Again, over to them:

Come down to the Baba Yaga’s Hut Xmas party. Three very heavy acts for you, mulled wine. Xmas hats. Getting drunk, the usual. London’s best classic metal band Bad Guys headline; plus the first ever London show for new heavy-psych/improvising jam supergroup Melting Hand (featuring Gordon & Russell of Terminal Cheesecake, Mike Vest of Bong/Drunk in Hell etc etc and Tom Fug of Gum Takes Tooth); and a Baba Yaga’s debut for London post-metal/sludge four piece Wren.



 
More Christmas gigs shortly, including some events elsewhere in Britain…

November 2015 – upcoming London gigs – Baba Yaga’s Hut brings Josefin Öhrn & The Liberation, The Wharves and Mr Silla to the Shacklewell Arms; The Magic Band play Captain Beefheart at Under The Bridge; Annette Peacock plays Café Oto; Raf & O, Arhai and Lucy Claire at Whispers & Hurricanes; Guitar Journey Duet at Songs From The Cellar in Highgate; Lo Recordings bring Grasscut, Astronauts and Lilith Ai to Daylight Music

16 Nov

I’ve not got quite as many gigs to cover this time, but bear in mind that The End Festival is still happily raging in Crouch End this week (if it were a standalone concert, The End’s Feast of St Cecilia weird-folk afternoon would be taking pride of place here), as is the London Jazz Festival. As I’m also a little more squeezed for time than usual this week, there’ll be less personal reflection and much more press-release in the coverage of the gigs in this post. Sorry about that. I’ll opinionate a little more next time.

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First up, a Baba Yaga mid-week gig: the debut British show for Josefin Öhrn, who’s rapidly becoming a darling of the urban psychedelic crowd. With her band The Liberation, she creates a beautifully spacious, light touch sound: some Krautrock motorik, enough rock’n’roll minimalism to slip smoothly into the sweet spot between hypnotic and monotonous, a strident skullbone rattle-and-drone where it’s needed, and a repertoire of subtle sonic finessing (shimmer, backwards reverb, rises, rainbow tone curves, all of the ingredients precisely and skilfully placed). To cap it, there’s Josefin’s voice – as perfectly-judged as the rest of the instrumentation and as cool as a drink of iced milk on a parched day, floating in the ever-present thought-space between the band’s chassis and roof.

event-20151118-josefineohrn

Josefin Öhrn & The Liberation (Baba Yaga’s Hut @ The Shacklewell Arms, 71 Shacklewell Lane, Shacklewell, London, E8 2EB, UK, 8.00pm) – £7.00 – informationtickets

In an era in which “psychedelia” can often mean merely a grab-bag of influences from which wah-wah pedals and two-note riffs are dispensed as signifiers and signposts into a realm of easy accessibility as opposed to gateways to another dimension, it can be a rarity to come across a band who are genuinely fixated on creating alternate realities for the listener. Yet this is exactly how Stockholm’s Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation view their incandescent art, and it’s this sensibility that’s led to the kaleidoscopic splendour of their debut full-length for Rocket Recordings, ‘Horse Dance’. “It’s a continuum that flows beyond here and now, and psychedelic music seems to be a really powerful way to unveil those deeper oceans of being that are our true home,” reflects Josefin, who forms half the core of the band with Fredrik Joelson. The last twelve months have seem a dramatic rise to prominence for The Liberation (who take their band name from the Tibetan Book Of The Dead) with their EP ‘Diamond Waves’ leading to shows in their homeland with Goat and Les Big Byrd, a nomination for a Swedish Grammy as best newcomer, and rapturously received appearances at festivals like Roskilde.

These adventures have set the stage for a spectacular movement into the unknown from their earlier work. ‘Horse Dance’ is a razor-sharp collection of ditties that marry dreamlike radiance with hypnotic rhythmic drive, set alight by a prismatic experimental glow. It inhabits a realm in which a propulsive ’60s-tinged pop song like ‘Sunny Afternoon’ can be elevated skyward with krautrock-tinged repetition, dub echo and analogue curlicues alike, and one in which a Broadcast-style mantra like You Have Arrived can tap into a psychic lineage that stretches all the way from The United States Of America to Portishead’s ‘Third’. Yet whilst ghosts of the like of Laika, Cat’s Eyes and The Creatures may lurk in the darker recesses of these songs, this is a band paying no homage to bygone glories.

The Liberation cite a myriad influences in both their philosophical stance and their aesthetic, from 12th century iconoclasts like Milarepa to 20th century sonic voyagers like Catherine Ribeiro, and from Kandinsky’s abstract expressions of synaesthesia to the avant-jazz of Moondog. Yet at all times their transcendental extrapolations are married to icy and enticing melodic flourishes, making for a revitalising clash between the chic and the transcendental, and a sound as biting as it is beatific. “I definitely think that the human need for altered states – to see oneself from a bigger perspective – is a deep fundamental need,” Josefin elaborates. “We’ve been deprived of access to our full nature by a restrictive system where altered states may be the ultimate taboo.” With ‘Horse Dance’, Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation step into a world where all such restrictions and taboos are null and void, and this journey is already proving quite the spectacle to behold.

Dunes

Support comes from all-female rock trio The Wharves (whose resonant clear-voiced indie sound, with a stack of folk-pop harmony and a sheen of blurred fluidity, sometimes sounds like a raindrop on the verge of collapsing) and from Mr. Silla (the solo project from former múm member Sigurlaug Gísladóttir, who’s joined live by guitarist Tyler Ludwick of Princess Music). There will also be DJ-ing from Daun of Swedish space-rockers Flowers Must Die.

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To be honest, I’m expecting half of the committed freaks in town to be at this next gig; and to have bought their tickets months ago…

The Magic Band @ Under The Bridge, London, 20th November 2015

The Magic Band (Under the Bridge, Stamford Bridge, Fulham Road, Fulham, London, SW6 1HS, UK, Friday 20th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £20.70 – information here and heretickets

After a sold out Under The Bridge gig in 2013, The Magic Band are back! Sharing the vision of celebrating the music of the late Don Van Vliet – aka Captain Beefheart – the band re-visits the classic Beefheart tunes with renewed fervour.Fans of the Captain won’t, wouldn’t and couldn’t miss this! Avant-garde blues at its finest and most rambunctious!

Speaking for myself, the enjoyment of Beefheart’s particular, perverse genius is always marred by the appalling stories of how he maltreated his colleagues. In many respects the man’s life was in tune with mischievous American folk-hero mythology. Those stories of microphone-busting vocals and of teaching his musicians all of their skills from scratch fit happily into the grand tradition of the American liar, the itinerant teller of tall tales and outright whoppers. Still, as the years have gone by, and as the other stories have bled through (about Beefheart’s take-the-money-and-lie attitude, his theft of credit for all of his players’ skills and work, and especially the brutally entitled sadism and psychological warfare meted out to his musical serfs as the band wrung out the tunes) the shine and mystique has well and truly worn off the man. What’s left, as ever, is the music: that tangle of bloodshot rolling blare and skew-whiff insight, the stubborn blues limp and the wrong-angle harmony attacks, the unorthodox barbed hooks that have kept generations of musicians and listeners transfixed.

With the Captain himself dead and gone for five years, reduced to a baleful honk of memory in a speaker, it’s been down to those who played alongside him in the various Magic Bands – and who, in the long run, finally survived him – to regularly blow on the embers and revive the noise. Since the Magic Band’s first reformation in 2006, some of the original members have, for various reasons passed out of the lineup again (first Robert Williams and Gary Lucas; most recently, Denny Walley) but the group still features singer and multi-instrumentalist John “Drumbo” French and bass player Mark “Rockette Morton” Boston. For this gig they’re joined by their current roster of sympatico recruits: guitarist Eric Klerks, drummer Andrew Niven and the newest recruit, Walley’s replacement Max Kutner (a multi-instrumentalist known for his work with Mike Keneally and Oingo Boingo and with Zappa tributeers Grandmothers of Invention, as well as his own projects such as Evil Genius and The Royal US).

By all accounts, in spite of time and circumstance whittling away at the roster of original players, the band retains their magic (judge for yourselves from the clip below). For me what clinches it is that at least some of the right guys are finally being paid, both in cash on the nail and in the credit they’ve damn well earned.

(All right – I did find time and room for some opinionating…)

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On Friday (and on the following Monday), Annette Peacock – a great undersung pioneer of various strains of songwriting, jazz experiments and electronics, as well as being an anticipator of many of the intriguing trends in female-led art music of today – is playing a couple of shows at Café Oto.

Annette Peacock @ Café Oto, 20th & 23rd November 2015

Annette Peacock (Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, London, E8 3DL,UK, Friday November 20th & Monday November 23rd 2015, 8:00 PM) – £22.00-£30.00informationtickets for Fridaytickets for Monday

“We’re very excited to host the first OTO appearance – and first show in London for quite some time – from visionary composer and songwriter, Annette Peacock. Always ahead of her time, Peacock has influenced a huge array or genres whilst never letting herself be pinned down by one, resulting in a music that is as captivating as it is unique. This should be very special indeed.” – Café Oto press release

“Annette Peacock’s wondrous, immersive trailblaze across recorded music’s rich history has marveled the likes of David Bowie, Brian Eno and one-time collaborator Salvador Dalí. Peacock once jokingly told The Quietus she has been fighting her way back to reality ever since taking LSD at Timothy Leary’s Millbrook estate in the early 1960s. Her plunge into otherworldly sonic wellsprings made her one of the first artists to synthesize her own vocals, pioneering the realms of minimalism, free jazz, rap, classical music and psychedelic funk along the way. After Robert Moog gifted Peacock one of his elusive prototype-synthesizers, she started implementing the makeshift device into her already individualistic, free-form lingo of songwriting and composing. To hear music skip so radically across exotic new touchstones, who needs reality, right?” – ‘Le Guess Who’

“Annette Peacock is a stone cold original – an innovator, an outlier, authentically sui generis.” – John Doran, ‘The Quietus’

“Nothing prepares you for the howl of her searingly high notes spiralling up out of spooky organ chords and soul-brass riffs.” – John Fordham, ‘The Guardian’

“A pioneer of rap, live electronic music and synth-pop, Annette Peacock’s achievements are monumental.” – ‘Scarufi’

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A few months ago, I briefly covered folk/classical/pop fusion night Whispers & Hurricanes (the latest arm of the Chaos Theory Promotions mini-empire) and they’re back this week.

Whispers & Hurricanes @ The Sebright Arms, 20th November 2015

Raf & O + ArHai + Lucy Claire + guests (Whispers & Hurricanes @ The Sebright Arms, 33-35 Coate Street, Bethnal Green London, E2 9AG, UK, Friday November 20th 2015, 7:30pm) – £6.00 – informationtickets

After a wonderful launch in September, our newest night is back with inspired musicians who fuse traditional sounds with groundbreaking techniques in an evening of mesmeric triphop, folktronica, avant pop and contemporary classical electronics. Fans of Portishead, Bowie, Lamb, Bjork and Eric Satie will enjoy.

Raf & O are a duo from south-east London who are garnering widespread acclaim in the UK and Europe, creating a buzz via exciting performances of their uniquely detailed avant-pop and its vortex of live electronics, acoustic instruments and fragile, magnetic, strange lullabies. After supporting artists such as Faust and Little Annie Bandez, they were special guests in Richard Strange’s production for William S. Burroughs’ centenary at Queen Elizabeth Hall, and recently composed for the theatre play ‘That Woman’s Voice’ (a tribute to Jean Cocteau). Raf and O’s second album ‘Time Machine’ was named as one of ‘FACT Magazine’s Top 10 albums of 2014, with their “avant-bizarre” interpretation of David Bowie’s Lady Grinning Soul pricking the ear of Bowie’s pianist, Mike Garson (who praised their minimalist approach) and leading to appearances at two Memory Of A Free Festival concerts (re-stagings of the legendary Beckenham Free Festival organised by David Bowie and The Beckenham Arts Lab back in 1969). Tonight we’ll hear them perform music from their first two albums, as well as unheard music from their upcoming third album.

ArHai is an electronic Balkan folk duo, consisting of Serbian-born composer and singer Jovana Backovic and British multi-instrumentalist Adrian Lever. Their music is a fusion of electronic music and folk with medieval influences from both the Gaelic and Balkan traditions. Underlined with breathtaking visuals, Arhai breathes new life into the sounds of the Bulgarian 8-string tambura lute and hammered dulcimer (played by Adrian), blending them with Jovana’s ethereal vocals and electronic production. Their previous album ‘Eastern Roads’ is a must have. Tonight’s show celebrates the launch of their new website and the upcoming release of their single.

We also welcome back the brilliant composer Lucy Claire, who launched her beautiful ‘Collaborations’ EP with us last year. A soundscape artist and a contemporary classical composer with influences from the likes of Satie, Peter Broderick and Björk, Lucy composes music with a very organic heart to it and in a style so unique and diverse that it has resulted in her performing to classical, electronic, acoustic and post-rock audiences, as well as live performances on BBC London’s breakfast show and BBC6 Music. Her sound initially seems soft and ambient, but reveals a defiant spirit and gentle force breaking its way through. This evening we will see her perform new collaborative works with some special guests, some of whom you may know already.

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It’s always nice to hail a new music night, especially one that’s only a short stroll from your own front door. In the Archway cutting, just up the road from the current Misfit City HQ, Songs From The Cellar have begun to fill a café basement with sound: next week it’s an investigation of antique popular songs, but this week it’s guitar instrumentals…

Guitar Journey Duet (Songs From The Cellar @ Zelas Cafe, 216 Archway Road, London, N6 5AX, UK, Friday 20th November 2015, 8.00pm) – £8.00 – information – tickets on the door

Songs From The Cellar, 20th November 2015Guitar Journey Duet is a team-up between two leading London cross-disciplinary guitarists – British player Jonny Phillips (a member of Oriole and F-ire Collective) and Sardinian-born Giorgio Serci (whose twenty years of recordings, collaborations and performance has included work with Antonio Forcione, Eduardo Niebla, Denys Baptiste and Shirley Bassey).

Between them Jonny and Giorgio cover jazz, classical, flamenco, samba, art rock, British folk and African jazz. They might be off to play Verdi at the Albert Hall barely a week after this concert, but what they get up to in this small Highgate basement might well be something completely different. The only clue as to what they’re playing is that they’re favouring Spanish guitars tonight, as they are in the video below.

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The last gig I’m listing for the week is another Daylight Music effort, bridging the acoustic and the electronic, the pastoral and the urban.

Daylight Music 207, 21st November 2015
Daylight Music 207 – 20 Years Of Lo Recordings: Grasscut + Astronauts + Lilith Ai (Union Chapel, Saturday 21st November 2015, 12.00pm–2.00pm) – free (£3.50 donation suggested) – information

Renowned for quality esoteric music, Shoreditch’s Lo Recordings has released music by Thurston Moore, Four Tet, Aphex Twin and others. Now the label is celebrating its 20th birthday with a special showcase at Daylight Music featuring label artists Grasscut, Astronauts and Lilith Ai.

Many accolades have been heaped on Grasscut, the teaming of Andrew Phillips (voice, keyboards, guitar) and Marcus O’Dair (keyboards, double bass) in a wide-thinking Brighton-based duo which encompasses electronica, classical minimalism and multi-media, and which draws inspiration from landscapes and history. Andrew, who writes and produces all Grasscut music, is also known for his soundtrack work for HBO, BBC Films and Channel 4: he has been nominated for an Emmy and shortlisted for an Ivor Novello. Marcus (who manages the band in addition to his instrumental contributions) also occupies himself with journalism for the Guardian and Financial, lecturing in Popular Music at Middlesex University and work as a broadcaster in particular on Stuart Maconie’s ‘Freakzone’: he is also the author of ‘Different Every Time: The Authorised Biography Of Robert Wyatt’. At this concert Grasscut will be playing music from their new album (and first for Lo Recordings), ‘Everyone Was A Bird’.

Astronauts is the solo project from Dan Carney (formerly of Dark Captain). Described by Sputnik Music as “often bleak and highly contemplative indie-folk”, according to Facebook, the project is mainly in the business of creating “ham-fisted bleep-folk neoliberal takedowns”. As with Grasscut, Dan’s interests and influences extend beyond making music: he is a qualified developmental psychologist with an interest in short-term memory development and in Williams and Down’s syndromes.

Lilith Ai is a new signing to Lo Recordings. A member of the Fight Like A Girl collective, she performs poignant tales of modern city living. Drawing from blues, folk and acoustic R’n’B, and dusted by subtle electronic shades and beats, Lilith’s songs show urban life through a clear lens which does not hesitate to reveal her own dark life experience.

 

April 1997 – album reviews – Ramshackle’s ‘Chin On the Kerb’ (“rocking and poised on the balls of their heels, preparing to take the blow and meet the challenge whenever it snakes out of nowhere to catch them”)

21 Apr

Ramshackle: 'Chin On the Kerb'

Ramshackle: ‘Chin On the Kerb’

Ramshackle‘s second album amply displays the fact that they’re stars in waiting. Or straining at the starting gate, perhaps; as ‘Chin On the Kerb’ feels like someone pacing in anticipation, winding up in order to lash out, someone containing so much but unsure of their moment.

Steve Roberts, Johnson Somerset and Ben Chapman make up Ramshackle. With their previous album ‘Depthology’ they sent admiring ripples through the midground of the blues and soul scene, yet so far they’ve eclipsed by the Bristol superstars on one hand and the steamroller marketing of American R&B on the other. A pity – because the longer you listen to this album the more impressive Ramshackle sound. Compare it to the successive waves of smug, self-satisfied vocal stars that carpet-bomb our soul shelves. It’s like the difference between listening to the shouts of a bandstanding actor and eavesdropping on an intense conversation in the corner of a bar. This band are smooth, but they never sound like they’re big-E Entertainment paste.

The central axis is Roberts’ British/Caribbean voice, bowled in somewhere between the edgy sweetness of Horace Andy, Austin Howard’s lushly muscular prowl and the testifying tenor roar of Doug Pinnick. And Ramshackle seem to have their initial foundations on whatever boundary lines there may be between Massive Attack, On-U Sound and Ellis, Beggs & Howard, but let themselves roam a good deal further. The ranked and sussed electro-acoustic instrumentation touches on trip-hop, on U2 Big Music rock and on techno, on soul and R&B, on church singing, Jamaica dub-juice and slow funk shakedown. Ramshackle are letting it all come to them, nourished by the convergence of those rich streams similar to the all-embracing muse of their Brit-soul contemporary Lewis Taylor, or – in intent, if not manner – to the Prince of The Cross or Symbol.

Certainly they’ve sheathed their black-pop instincts in richly crafted clothing. From My Mind emerges from cloudy electronic shapes to a sweet spartan R&B groove and tiny, intent piano kisses. Works of Devotion lounges on the dubbier ingredient of padded bass, high echoing Jericho trumpet flickers and bouncy toasting; Roberts blazes with quiet righteousness, balancing out the snaky threat of the industrial synth that slides through the song like the worm in the apple. And they’ve got a knack with uplifting ballad pop. The acoustic strum and sweet-rocking sway of Don’t Turn Me Away; the bluesy plaint of (What About) Tomorrow with its hip-hop beats and train-whistle wastelands; the joyous, sunny gospel sighs and carnival brass that ripple through the blissed-out single, Freshly Rained-On Grass; or Eden’s gospelly piano’n’beats, laden with dangling glittery sounds like harmonica memories and a family of chorus vocals.


 
But ‘Chin On the Kerb’ is shadowed by palpable alarm – “Let me tell you / I smell blood in the water.” Even when they’re taking the air and laughing into the sunlight on Freshly Rained-On Grass, there’s a sense of Ramshackle rocking and poised on the balls of their heels, preparing to take the blow and meet the challenge whenever it snakes out of nowhere to catch them. Granted, it’s no ‘Mezzanine’ – it lacks the spookiness, the seductive alienation, the naked rage Massive Attack are allowing themselves. And what darkness exists in this album happens to Roberts’ protagonists, it’s not of them. But there’s a religious sense of right and wrong driving this, which sets up a particular tension in Ramshackle’s tales of life on the rough edge. Just as Roberts can flick lightly between street-sly patois and preacher pomp, Ramshackle’s moods are volatile beneath the smoothness.

If there’s anything you take away from the album, it’s the impression of a hot-headed and contrary man paying a loyal personal tribute to the resilience of the beleaguered black experience. The pomp-rock-tinged Temple – piano and bass from house music meeting a Tackhead-style forcefulness, Roberts’ voice fracturing into sweet choruses and torn-up foreboding roars – warns of hostile worlds outside the church doors. No Touchi”s tales of a crime-ridden community on the last scraps of its pride (“I see less clearly in these advancing years.. / No touchi’ rock, combat bad intentions”) touch on Gaye’s Inner City Blues, ragga inflections dodging the drilling whine of synth and the discreet knife-play of scratching.

Though the above is mild compared to the vengeful slash at brotherhood betrayed on Broken Soul. Or to the vipers-nest atmosphere of the album’s loping title track, where the guitars clot and loom like hangovers, and the synths gleam like yellowed morning-after teeth: “The Judas kiss / of cold glass to my lips / tells me I’m gonna keep doing this all of the time.” Roberts sounds as if he’s washed up against a pissed-on wall, torn pants fouled and down round bruised thighs, surfacing into one of those horrible moments of absolute truth when there’s nothing between you and the raddled wound that you called your soul before you got lost on the dirty side.

Still, even while lying in the gutter, the old line about looking at the stars still applies. In the end, it’s about the determination of faith-under-fire, as in the hymnal, luscious-as-tears Let Em Go and in the way the devotional vision in Lament bears as much witness to the devastation of black communities by alcoholism and self-hating violence as it does to the landscape of promised redemption; Roberts’ voice embracing all of this.

The closer, Safe (with its unexpected crest of sumptuous weeping violas), is a soldier’s song. Fraternal and distressing as a lost harmonica left on a torn battlefield, and acknowledging the brutalisation of young boys into fighting men – “and when I met the enemy / it was just a boy’s eyes, cold and distant. / Such savagery / coming from a man like me.” But when the last words come, they aren’t just a plea for support, but a resolution to find one’s way back to truth: “I wish to be safe in the arms of the Lord / I want to be faithful in deeds and words.”

They might believe that love will triumph over rage, but they don’t treat that rage lightly. Ramshackle? Anything but. Rich and rewarding.

Ramshackle: ‘Chin On the Kerb’
Edel UK Records/Whatever… Records, EDEL 098602WHE (4009880986028)
CD-only album
Released:
18th April 1997
Get it from: (2020 update) Best obtained second-hand.
Ramshackle online:
Last FM Amazon Music
 

February 1997 – album reviews – The Bathers’ ‘Kelvingrove Baby’ (“full of Celtic soul histrionics, surging choruses and delicate instrumental interludes”)

13 Feb

The Bathers: 'Kelvingrove Baby'

The Bathers: ‘Kelvingrove Baby’

Oh, but I do worry about Chris Thomson.

Chris Thomson is The Bathers. He’s been ploughing his lonely furrow for ten years, since the break up of the seminal Glasgow group Friends Again (who also featured James Grant of Love And Money ‑ no, me neither…). This is The Bathers’ fifth album ‑ it will doubtless be received with the same resounding silence as all the others, save for the tiny devoted following who will think manna has descended from heaven. So why was I worried? Well, the sleeve to the last album, ‘Sunpowder’, contained the desperately insecure messages “Support the Arts ‑ Hug A Musician” and “The Dream Is Over ‑ Long Live The Dream”. Sob.

Now you’ll have to take The Bathers to your hearts, surely…?


 
In truth, the first three or so tracks are a touch disconcerting by normal Bathers standards. The (frankly pretentious, but marvellous) European‑influenced titles are absent; the credits show a preponderance of Wurlitzer, Rhodes and electric pianos rather than the normally ever‑present ethereal strings and chiming classical piano lines. And while Van Morrison has often been an undoubted influence, on this album the influence is perhaps too pervasive, and it verges at times on sounding like an avant‑garde Hothouse Flowers. The trio of Girlfriend, If Love Could Last Forever and East Of East Delier ‑ whilst gloriously late‑night ‑ can make them sound like a barely‑audible, zonked‑out but musically polite cafe band. At one point, I half expected Thomson to slur: “Ladeez and gennelmen, we’re your band this evening. Gonna take a little ol’ break now. See you at the bar, which is now open.”.


 
But for East Of East Delier, the European outlook (“I dreamed she’d come from Copenhagen…”) is back, serenaded by Thomson’s 2 a.m‑feel, decidedly tipsy, highly emotional display, and the album twitches into life with No Risk No Glory. With a sparse acoustic base to the verse, and sympathetic soul‑style backing vocals (by, of all people, Del Amitri’s Justin Currie ‑ bang goes the indie cred) that echo Thomson’s lyric, the chorus rises to breast‑beating Celtic soul and a lyric full of self‑awareness ‑ “I was born to suffer.”

And after a slightly hazy start to the album, Once Upon A Time On The Rapenburg restores my faith. It’s like an old friend, and you should never change an old friend. All the signature Bathers motifs are there ‑ the classical piano, the strings, the over‑emotional vocals, the continental cool. And the lyrical concern is a familiar one about kissing a girl under starlit skies in various exotic European locations. What a guy…


 
Kelvingrove Baby itself is the album’s central epic ‑ there’s always one, full of Celtic soul histrionics, surging choruses and delicate instrumental interludes. It begins as a simple piano motif before bursting into life with haunting voices and an operatic diva weaving in and out of Thomson’s lyrics ‑ which could be corny, but instead sends a shiver down the spine. He’s expectantly waiting for a girl again, and dedicating his overflowing paean of love to her hometown. The music regularly builds, swells and bursts like a raincloud, as Thomson reaches ecstatic preacherly heights of inspiration: “when your girl looks at you, and she sighs, / when she moves beside you, you want the moment touched with magic and immortality. / You want rain, / you want soft music, / and the last words to be about love!” Pianos and drums explode. The song ends, soaked to the skin and smiling.


 
On a quieter tip, Girl From The Polders is a good example of what Thomson does so well: taking a standard, timeless melody (you know the tune already, from the first notes onwards) and drawing out of it something haunting and emotional. He seems to be waiting through the seasons, until summer, for her this time. (Hands up if you see a lyrical theme emerging…)

The one unforgivable track ‑ the first real blot on Thomson’s copy book I’ve heard in ages, is Dial. More cafe band music; too mellow, man. Lots of filmic guitar, elongated major‑7th chords, treacle‑smooth backing vocals and an irredeemably cringeworthy chorus ‑ “Caller, you’re divine.” Ugh. But Hellespont In A Storm (yes! titles! titles!) wins us back: a late‑night lament guided by an accordion, acoustic guitar and violin. Although, gorgeous as it is, Thomson’s way with a familiar melody takes a tumble in the verses, where echoes of Unchained Melody can be clearly heard. Oh, never mind…

The final track, Twelve, finds Thomson devoting himself to a girl in the most poetic and tangible of ways; “I’ll love you ’til the roses lose their perfume… / until the poets run out of rhymes… / ’til the twelfth of never. / And, baby, you know / that’s a long, long time…” Then that “Bathers moment” appears ‑ distant voices appear and disappear through snatches of ghostly telephone conversations, string passages shoot up at the back of the recording like incense rushing up the dome of St Peter’s. The callers hang up.


 
Chris Thomson will be waiting for you, bottle of red wine in hand in the late‑night rain, under the street lamp’s orange glow. He’ll be singing quietly to himself.

Goodbye, Chris. See you at the same place next time.

(review by Vaughan Simons)

The Bathers: ‘Kelvingrove Baby’
Marina Records, MA 22/MACD 4468‑2 (4 015698 446821)
CD-only album
Released: 10th February 1997

Get it from:
(2018 update) the original Marina pressing of this album has long since sold out, so is best obtained second-hand. The 2000 reissue on Wrasse Records is still available.

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December 1995 – live reviews – Gordon Haskell @ The Unplugged Club, Bloomsbury, London, 7th December (“he takes his stand against the hostility of the world with a disarming, cunning humour, one mockingly rolled eye peering out to capture the madness and to look out for an escape route”)

9 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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