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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

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.


March 2018 – a psych/noise cavalcade in London for Rocket Recordings’ 20th anniversary (9th to 11th March)

28 Feb

There are still some tickets left for the rollicking, rampaging twentieth-anniversary concerts for venerable yet vital psychedelic noise label Rocket Recordings. These will be packing out the Garage and its sister venue Thousand Island in north London for three consecutive days over an early March weekend.

It’s not the first time that Highbury Corner’s been rammed with psychoactive weirdness and well-plumbing musical explorations. In its earlier incarnation as Upstairs at the Garage, the smaller Thousand Island saw hundreds of strange and wonderful leftfield acts pass through; to pick just one example, twenty years ago the building hosted occult ensemble Moon and Serpent Grand Egyptian Theatre of Marvels and their ‘Highbury Working’ “beat seance” in which Alan Moore and David J explored and mined the hidden histories of the Holloway Road from the horse goddess Epona to the rapidly poisoned utopianism of the Black House, from the schemata of Aleister Crowley to the madness of Joe Meek. So the Corner’s no stranger to strangeness… but it’s good, for a full weekend, to see strangeness rise so outrightly overground amongst the traffic fumes, creeping gentrification and salsa nights.

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The Rocket days kick off on Friday 9th. Fluxus-inspired Italian garage groove-band Julie’s Haircut mingle smearing, chuckling Ash Ra Tempel guitars and flutes with a Georgio Moroder wobble, while from Sweden there’s creamy-toned garage darlings Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation (whose more recent recordings pulse along on a fluting, closed-eyed Can patter) and the detailed anticipations of Flowers Must Die, who burst shining locked disco grooves through hanging tapestries of improvised “oriental-influenced” psychedelia (like an unexpected frug in a Tibetan temple). A couple of spinoff acts from Salford industrial/sociological alchemists Gnod are playing– the fleshy beats, brutual mechanisms and cellar drones of Chris Haslam’s electronica project Dwellings and the “slow burning vocal loops (and) devotional mindscapes” of A.P Macarte’s AHRKH. Also on the bill is the spontaneous, impulse/emotion-driven semi-improvised “dirty techno” of Coldnose, swilling in acid house, industrial, electro, drum and bass and distorted vocal snarls. For the after-show winddown, there’s DJ-ing from assorted Teeth Of The Sea members, but more on them later…

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Sorry, but it’s returns only for Saturday 10th. Although Hills (with their gruff and deafening meditational rock, like Joy Division trapped inside a raga) have had to pull out, their Swedish compatriots Goat (costumed acid/world fusioneers who’ve already made a big splash at Glastonbury) are still in play. So are Italian “kosmitronic” rockers Mamuthones – a delightful confection of slippery tinkling rhythms, chatterbox riffage explosions of lateral noise and sing-song babble, they’re what Dutch Uncles might have sounded like if they had less of a taste for arch Roxy-isms and had taken more of a liking to Pere Ubu. There are also slots for the onetime heavy doom-psych of Hey Colossus (who, like their spiritual forebears The Birthday Party, are evolving steadily out of the chaotic London murk they began in and starting to tell stories) and the bellowing, unreconstructed Tyneside sludge-acid of Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs. Minimalist Malmö trance-rockers Ved preview their imminent Rocket EP ‘DDTT’, and there are sets from amelodic No Wave revisitors Housewives, block-partying noise duo Gum Takes Tooth and the elasticated buzzing Russian “stargaze” band Gnoomes.

In addition, there’ll be a rare solo appearance by Teeth Of The Sea’s modular analogue synth guy Mike Bourne who – in parallel to his band work – has recently put out a couple of odds and ends on Bandcamp including the gradually-evolving ‘pætʃ’ album of electronic experiments (including black-and-white vampire music and harmonium/Harmonium-esque sketches with a dash of Geiger-counter, and the vast shadow-steeped minimalism of his soundtrack to Ben Lister’s horror short ‘Wine Dark Sea’). Opening the evening, the blipping electronics, kettle-banging, forceful ranting and rises to aggressive crescendos of Temple Ov BBV (a collaboration between Gnod and Dutch experimental psychedelicists Radar Men From The Moon) resemble a more spacious meeting between early Swans and cultural rhythmatist John Chernoff). DJ-ing for the evening comes from a four-strong squad of Cherrystones, Jamie Paton, Mike Keeling and Chris Reeder.

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The highlight of the Sunday show – at least as far as Rocket themselves are concerned – has been their success in securing the British live debut for the duo project by Polish reeds/keyboard player Wacław Zimpel and his compatriot, the “magic brutalistStara Rzeka guitarist/singer Kuba Ziołek, as Zimpel/Ziołek. They’ll be showcasing the psychoactive-minimalist jazz-folk stew of last year’s eponymous album.

That said, there’ll be pretty strong competition from trumpet-toting electronic rock partisans Teeth Of The Sea. Having DJ-ed on the first night, they’re returning at full band strength for what will presumably provide another exhilarating set and another chance for us all to slither around in a puddle of non-stick definitions (are they noise? are they rave? are they dream-metal? are they what you might’ve had if Miles Davis had rashly agreed to a Foetus production job?). Also returning are Gnod – this time in person, playing a “greatest hits” set, which you can vote for here).

There’s further Gnodness via yet another pair of spin-offs: Paddy Shine’s immersive “tantric vocal loop” project Ayn Sof and Marlene Ribeiro’s work as Negra Branca (around which circulates various splutters including “squashy analogue”, “temple goddess” and “dreamscape”). Veteran psych bass player Gareth Turner is making two appearance – one as a third of the Anthroprophh trio (in which he’s joined by Heads guitarist Paul Allen and drummer Jesse Webb to blend “garage-bound filth (with) wayward, abstract artistry”), and the other as half of Kuro (in which he grabs a double bass and joins forces with violinist Agathe Max for electrically-enhanced string-drones). Finally, there’s also space for Liverpudlian heavy-psychedelic noise-rockers Bonnacons Of Doom and shamanic ritual trio H.U.M. (Mark Wagner, Heloise Zamzam and Uiutna) whom I last described as “a kind of psychic cross-cultural art coven, citing “alchemical practice, incantation, chanting, drones, ritual drumming, French variété” as both inspiration and activity.”

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Further details and ticket/info links below… if you’re reading about this for the first time, you’re already stragglers, so get going…

Rocket Recordings 20, 9th-11th March 2018

Baba Yaga’s Hut & DHP present:
‘Rocket Recordings Twenty’
The Garage/Thousand Island, 20-22 Highbury Corner, Highbury, London, N5 1RD, England
Friday 9th March 2018, 7.30pm
Saturday 10th March 2018, 3.30pm
Sunday 11th March 2018, 7.30pm

– information here and here

February/April/August 2018 – underground rock flowerings at the Tim Smith fundraiser gigs in Birmingham (21st February), York (27th April) and Preston (11th August)

15 Feb

Following on from the various posts I’ve done on Tim Smith fundraiser gigs, here’s details on the first three to go public this year (in Birmingham, York and Preston). They’ll be shows which are obviously of interest to fans who’ve followed Tim’s work in and out of Cardiacs, but in their lively breadth, they offer plenty for those who’ve never even heard of either Tim or the band.

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Die Das Der & The Catapult Club present:
A Tim Smith Fundraiser: The Courtesy Group + The Nature Centre + Ghosts of Dead Airplanes + The Crooked Hooks
The Cuban Embassy @ The Bulls Head, 23 St Mary’s Row, Moseley, Birmingham, B13 8HW, England
Wednesday 21st February 2018, 7.30pm
– pay-what-you-can event – information

Tim Smith Fundraiser, 21st February 2018The Birmingham event takes place at a Moseley joint generally better known for Latin music: hemmed in by rum posters and playing under the Cuban flag are various Brum-area acts with assorted mind-expanding sympathies, from the slightly fey to the outright bolshy.

I’ve encountered The Nature Centre before – light-touch “fololoppy” banjo-and-keyboards Anglopop meeting a Barrett-y/Partridge-y/Smith-y sensibility, while smuggling in strange tales of misogyny and telepathy under the cover of cuteness – but the other bands playing this pay-what-you-like gig are new to me. Shades of Captain Beefheart, The Fall and Ian Dury infest The Courtesy Group, thanks to Al Hutchin’s pop-eyed, pop-jawed declaiming over tunefully abrasive hubcap-guitar rock grooves (which travel from beaten-up armchair argument to deafening industry, and which deploy an extended armoury including baritone guitar and beatboxing).

More zig-zagging commentary and tossed-salad narrative come from The Crooked Hooks, who seem to have started from an electric folk groundpoint (with a flick of country fingerpicking) but then rapidly twisted and buggered it up with dirty art rock. They’ve ended up sounding like a collision between Kevin Rowland and Stump: admittedly, a Kevin who’s let the quest for soul slip through his fingers while he was sunk in esoterica about lost continents, nursery rhymes, insults and horses.

Finally, the sludgy jangle of self-deprecating trio Ghosts Of Dead Airplanes defines itself, variously, as “post-post-punk” , “paunch-core”, “noise-pap” and “stupid”. Lurching about all over the shop on a sprawling, surprisingly diverse noise-pop chassis, they formerly bit chunks from what sounded like everything from Pop Will Eat Itself, Nirvana and Gary Numan through to The Double; but more recently they’ve been sounding like anxious boys sticking their bewildered heads out of the billowing trailsmoke-ball of My Bloody Valentine.

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An Evening of Fadeless Splendour, 27th April 2018

Maeve Pearson, Jock Bray, Ian Hughes and Simon Piper present:
An Evening Of Fadeless Splendour: Kavus Torabi + Redbus Noface + Paul Morricone + Stephen Gilchrist
The Fulford Arms, 121 Fulford Road, York, Yorkshire, YO10 4EX, England
Friday 27th April 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

Several actual Cardiacs (and honorary family members) are showing up at the York gig. Kavus Torabi will be including it as part of his upcoming tour of new solo material featuring a more serious change of tone, in which he’ll be applying his offbeat psychedelic imagination to sombre-yet-colourful acoustic guitar wrangles, ghostly harmonium drones and dark airs about preoccupations and mortality… as well as the odd Knifeworld piece. (Note – if you’re in London on 22nd February, he’ll also be previewing this tour set in Kings Cross.)

Stephen Gilchrist (a.k.a “Stuffy” or, more recently, “Stephen eVens”) will be playing some of his guitar/melodica/microsynth songs about wilful disappointments, bloody-mindedness, childhood holidays and other sardonic aspects of the human condition. For a man who’s ostensibly such a downbeat bastard, he’s always proved a very engaging live performer, clearly relishing his own gallows humour and the grin beneath the growl. (Having delivered one of the finest British songwriter albums of 2017 also helps, I suppose…)

Stephen also pops up as part of the lineup of Redbus Noface, the ongoing band project by Mark Cawthra (Tim Smith’s primary foil in the early Cardiacs lineups). Helping Mark and Stephen land the Redbus cargo of chunky art-rock and skewed perspective are Bob Leith (another Cardiac) and Mick Russon (sometimes of Cardiacs-inspired Midlands wonk-pop band 7shades, more on whom later). Bar sporadic gigs, Redbus has been pretty quiet since the release of debut album ‘If It Fights The Hammer, It Will Fight The Knife’ nearly seven years ago: perhaps they’ll have something new for us now.

Completing the evening’s entertainment is an appearance by main Scaramanga Six songwriter and frontman Paul Morricone, delivering a solo acoustic guitar package of Scaramanga songs and (perhaps) some additional work in progress. His main band, with their Yorkshire-Krays schtick and their tuneful swagger, might be one of the proudest live acts around; but even without them Paul’s presence is undiminished. He’s still got that big, carrying voice, plus two decades of tough, smart tuneful rock songs behind him – many of them mercilessly skewering toxic masculinity from an insider perspective, focussing not just on its frightening cruelties and callousnesses, but also on its footling self-delusions, its stunted fears and resentments, its swaggering nightmares.

With his work given a new uncomfortable resonance in these days of exposed misogyny, Paul frequently offers grim theatre, with clear lessons beneath the tunes and the dark characterisations. Thankfully, the wider wit and elan of his songwriting – its other varied subjects include stagefright, dreams, and the battle for independence of mind and action, often addressed with dark and melodramatic humour – ensure that an audience with him is far from being a brutal drag-down.

Further details on the show are yet to be confirmed but the planned visuals by Kandle Voodoo, plus the efforts of assorted DJs, will help grease the brain and ensure that everything should roll on until two in the morning.

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Hyena Inc. presents:
The Whole World Window 2:
The New Continental, South Meadow Lane, Preston, Lancashire, PR1 8JP, England
Saturday 11th August 2018, 12:00pm
– information here and here

Whole World Window 2, 11th August 2018By far the biggest of the three events is the Preston one – a twelve-hour all-dayer happily yomping along in the footsteps of a previous attempt back in 2016.

In some respects it’s a rerun, with plenty of the same faces showing up. Promoter Greg Brayford is bringing his own mutant power-pop trio All Hail Hyena (whom I described back then as “Bo Diddley rocking an birthday-cake castle”). Prime Cardiacs acolytes 7Shades are still probably as close to the punchy, cartwheeling late-‘80s Cardiacs sound as you’re going to find without a time machine. Also making return appearances are odd-fit acapella jazz’n’Latin pop singer Asha Hewitt (a.k.a. “Moon Ahsa”, sometimes part of Solana) and the deafening hardcore tinkle of Britney (I’m sorry, but I can’t top my 2016 description of them as “one-and-a-half-minute bursts of earsplitting rock numbers plastered with crumpled ice-cream-van melodies…”)

In other respects, WWW2 is a monstrously ambitious jump-up from the last time around, with Cardiacs-community names coasting in from all over the country and from further afield in Europe. The last of the 2016 returnees is Sterbus, bringing his lovingly boiled-up jam of Smith, Fripp, Zappa and ‘90s rock influences over from Rome (and travelling in cahoots with Dominique d’Avanzo, his usual clarinet-and-voice foil). As with the York gig, Kavus Torabi will play a mostly-acoustic solo set; also in attendance are his fellow Londoners The Display Team with their brass-heavy, complicated-but-catchy avant-rock songbook.

Continuing his ongoing journey from the American underground to the hearts of an increasing number of unsuspecting British freaks, former Thinking Plague/5uu’s polyinstrumental wildcard Bob Drake pops across the Channel from his south-of-France home with a cavalcade of lighthearted weird-fiction tales for guitar, voice and funnybone. From Tyneside and Northumberland, the recently reunited Sleepy People (complete with original frontman and ongoing Ultrasound icon Tiny Wood) will be bringing their pumping, spiralling kaleidoscopic psych-pop for strange city corners; while twilight-folk singer Emily Jones, from Cornwall, will be unpacking her own tales of sea-wives, suspect fairies and haunted post-war bungalows.

The rest of the bill features some rich north-western and Midland pickings which have caught Greg’s eye. Former Polyphonic Love Orchestra members David Sheridon and Debz Joy are making what I think is their first live appearance in their new post-punk fabulist guise as Army Of Moths; Telford-based punk-pop absurdists A Pig Called Eggs sound like John Otway and Syd Barrett happily sharing a single body, but struggling for control of a jouncing mathcore band. Rounding the bill off are Mancunian loop-pedal-pushing lo-fi noise-pop soloist RoBotAliEn (a moonlighter from frequent Hyena-gig guests Sweet Deals On Surgery) and folk-singer Cassandra Payne, whose 2016 debut EP ‘Sheltering Tree’ blends a Northern English folk heritage with lessons and Americana ideas picked up from journeys through the Appalachians, the wilds of Vermont and the bohemian idyll of Cape Cod’s Provincetown.

Greg has also promised a rash of zines, merchandise and commemorative souvenirs, plus a couple of mysteries in the shape of Hannah’s Storey (a top-secret duo being assembled especially for the event) and a similarly secret headliner (which, given the calibre of the people he’s already managed to sign up, ought to be very special indeed…) Meanwhile, for a peek at the previous Whole World Window concert in 2016, see below.


February 2018 – upcoming London gigs – Society Of Imaginary Friends Soiree with Meg Lee Chin, Keiko Kitamura, I Am Her, Kosmic Troubadour, Math Jones (2nd February); Peter Blegvad Trio and Bob Drake (9th February – plus the Club Integral Resonance Benefit Gala on the 8th); Evil Blizzard and Nasty Little Lonely (10th February)

29 Jan

SOIF Soiree, 2nd February 2018

Society of Imaginary Friends presents:
“Into The Forest” Soiree: Meg Lee Chin + Keiko Kitamura + I Am Her + Kosmic Troubadour + Math Jones
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Friday 2nd February 2018, 7.30pm
– free event – information here

After a few events which were perhaps a little more predictable than we’d’ve hoped, this month’s Society Of Imaginary Friends-hosted concert moves up a gear with the involvement of “two goddesses of Earth and Heaven”. Purple twilight time:

“We take the path that leads down from the fell, over the style, over a stream and into the heart of the forest. At first it seems completely lifeless in the wood, all of its creatures hibernating deep in the ground; but as our eyes become adjusted to the dusky dark and senses atuned to its music..the rustle of a robin in the dried leaves, a squirrel’s staccato, a falling pine cone. Suddenly we are in a clearing of softest moss – a place of refuge and rest, where a clear spring rises and sunlight dances. Welcome to our “Into the Forest” Soiree.”

A mid-‘90s Pigface member (and the former frontwoman for female noise band Crunch), industrial pop/darkwave/hip hop songstress and hands-on producer Meg Lee Chin is a prime example of longstanding female creativity and independence. Having rattled cages and excited commentators with her turn on Pigface’s ‘Nutopia’, she then spearheaded contemporary home-studio recording with her 1999 solo album ‘Piece and Love’ and went on to found pro-audio community Gearslutz. Although released music has been sporadic for the last couple of decades, Meg’s kept her reputation as a fascinating, brilliant performer and composer and as an outspoken, sometimes contrary blogger. SOIF, in turn, have a reputation for coaxing people’s slumbering performance talents out of semi-retirement: if Meg’s risen to the occasion in response, this ought to be pretty exciting.

Also on hand – and in delightful contrast – is Keiko Kitamura: known for activities ranging from replaying Japanese court music to Jah Wobble’s Nippon Dub Ensemble, is a leading international koto player (in particular, the 17-string bass version) as well as a singer and shamisen player. Expect a mixture of tradition and originality.

The rest of the appropriately quirky SOIF bill is filled out by eccentric rainbow keyboard warrior The Kosmic Troubadour, poet/dramatist Math Jones (with a sheaf of forest poems) and Soiree regular I Am Her, a.k.a. ex-Rosa Mota singer Julie D. Riley (who also, with fellow Rosacian Sacha Galvagna, makes up transatlantic transcontinental electropop minimalists Crown Estate). As ever, the Society themselves are performing, presenting (presumably) art-pop forest ballads to take in with the Karamel vegan feast that’s part and parcel of a SOIF event. This time, you get an appropriately woody wild forest mushroom soup, a mushroom and root vegetable pizza and some Black Forest gateau…

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Here’s news on one of the several fundraisers for London alt.culture radio station Resonance FM, helping it to keep up its mission of broadcasting the wild and wonderful across the Smoke’s airwaves and around the world online. Even setting aside the calibre of the night’s performers, it’s pretty much worth going along for that reason alone.

Peter Blegvad Trio, 9th February 2018

Resonance FM presents:
Peter Blegvad Trio with Bob Drake
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Friday 9th February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

I’ve always had a lot of admiration for Peter Blegvad – not only for the owlish wit of his songs (including his skill as palindromist and wordplayer) and the enviable polymathic breadth of skills which means he’s also a fine experimental cartoonist, audio dramatist and commentator. It’s also because anyone who can get himself sacked from ‘70s avant/oppositional prog gods Henry Cow by outrightly twitting their seriousness at the height of their brow-furrowing Maoist phase (and apparently by writing a lyric about a woman chucking raisins at a skeleton) is a man who knows something about whistling in the face of sternness.

Well, perhaps I shouldn’t make too much of this. For one thing, despite (and because of) Henry Cow’s high-flying, generally admirable idealism, spending time there seems to have been argumentative for everyone (in particular during the period in which almost every potential action appeared to have its cripping counter-bourgeois condemnation, during which a man of Peter’s wayward questioning wit and self-declared flippancy would have stuck out like a slammable thumb in the way of a door). Once out of the mothership, though, it was evidently easier to be familial. Showing up most artistic spats and internal rock band feuds for the pique and piffle that they are, all of the ex-Cow-ers grew up (and grew past their arguments) to become a mutually supportive bunch. Threading in and out of each other’s concerts and solo careers, they rapidly learned to welcome and celebrate the diversity of their collective interests and ideas, and they’ve stayed that way.

Proving this yet again, whenever the Peter Blegvad Trio comes back together it reunites Peter with two regular Cowfriends: John Greaves (bassist and longtime ally both during and after Cowdays, from the ‘Kew.Rhone.’ project onwards) and Chris Cutler (drummer and owner of the eclectic and honourable post-Cow record label ReR Megacorp which, since 1988, has released four widely-spaced Blegvad albums – ‘Downtime’, ‘Just Woke Up’, ‘Hangman’s Hill’ and last year’s ‘Go Figure’). Thirty-seven years of on/off playing together has resulted in a relaxed, gently telepathic connection: not a mysterious communion, nor an alliance of breakneck musical stuntwork, but an easy, comfortable instinct for what’s required to frame the song and no more. As for Peter himself, if you’re unfamiliar with his work it’s best to think of someone with one foot in the sardonic-wit songworld of Loudon P. Wainwright, Leon Rosselson, Richard Thompson and Kinky Friedman, and the other in the counterflow rock camp which the Cow shared with (among others) Faust and Pere Ubu.

And that brings me to the second point – ultimately, it’s really pretty misleading to define Peter by the lineaments of Henry Cow, art-prog or Rock In Opposition. Granted, he’s spent quite a bit of time paddling away in those areas (in addition to ‘Kew.Rhone’ and the Cow work, there’s been Slapp Happy, Faust and The Lodge, as well as swing-by dates with The Golden Palominos and Art Bears). Yet if you put him firmly in the driving seat on his own, what you get isn’t hyperliterate trickery, but intelligent, light-touch, surprisingly roots-rocking songs with a smart economy of tale-telling and reflection.

He’s still got a yen for throwing up a thesis and exploring it (this is, after all, a man who once explored the roots and fears of the European Union via a teasing, erudite and baffling lyrical mirror-maze of classical borrowings), but more often than not he’ll now use a folk or country-folk form to do so, or pick a nuanced idea to polish in a few simple strokes: something a child could pick up on but which an adult might savour. From some angles you could even confuse him (via that nasal, tuneful, breathy bark of a voice) with a more relaxed Mike Scott in acoustic mode, or even with Mark Knopfler in a moment of sardonic humanism. Although neither of them would have written a love ballad as sparse and sorrowful as Shirt And Comb, honed a metaphysical gag like Something Else (Is Working Harder) or tweaked, explored and upended a common cultural assumption the way Peter does on Gold.

One of the contributors to ‘Go Figure’ (along with Karen Mantler) was the delightful Bob Drake – the erstwhile Thinking Plague and 5uu’s mainstay turned offbeat producer and solo artist. For more of my rambles on him, take a look over here. The long and the short about him, though, is that he’s a multi-instrumentalist and hedge-bard with broad and rambling ideas about just how far you can stretch and mutate an open-ended thought or song, who now regularly heads out for solo voice-and-guitar gigs (often performing, for reasons both flippant and serious, in a lovely white bear-dog suit). Like Peter Blegvad, Bob’s got a liking for complexity and warm perverse wit; but what you take away from his shows is literal shaggy-doggery: peculiar sung tales both finished and unfinished about strange mammals, haunted houses, odd habits, monster-movie scenarios and twisted eldritch dimensions.

When I originally posted this, I was under the impression that Bob was playing a solo Oto support slot, but it now appears that he’s actually beefing up the Trio to a quartet, with or without the animal suit. If you still want to see Bob in solo mode, however, you could set aside some time the previous evening for another Resonance FM fundraiser: Club Integral‘s annual Resonance tin-shaker, being held south of the river at IKLEKTIK on Thursday 8th.

Offering “thirteen minute sets from thirteen acts”, this features a wealth of music-and/or-noise-makers from the Integral playlists: improv pranksters Glowering Figs, audiovisual sculptress Franziska Lantz, ARCO composer Neil Luck, mixed-ability folk internationalists the No Frills Band, Found Drowned/Four Seasons Television guitar manipulator James O’Sullivan, sound designer/Howlround member Robin The Fog, Bob and Roberta Smith (a.ka. artist/advocate/utopian Patrick Brill) playing with his own “musical intervention” project The Apathy Band, restlessly morphing New Wave survivors Spizz, and whoever St Moritz, Two Horns, Robert Storey, Strayaway Child, Swordfish and King/Cornetto happen to be. Plus Bob – who was hoping to balance his thirteen-minute time limit with the playing of thirteen one-minute songs, but has apparently opted to settle for eleven.

(If Bob’s wily, he’ll also strap a few tentacles onto that fur-suit and go up and do a bit of busking by Camden Lock, staking out the London Lovecraft Festival that’s also taking place that week…)

* * * * * * * *

Evil Blizzard, 10th February 2018

Baba Yaga’s Hut presents:
Evil Blizzard + Nasty Little Lonely
The Underworld, 174 Camden High Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 0NE, England
Wednesday 10th February 2018, 6.00pm
– information here and here

Filling in a three-cornered gap between Public Image Ltd, Poisoned Electrick Head and The Residents, hilariously distressing Preston lords of misrule Evil Blizzard are bringing their act south in order to launch their ‘Fast Forward Rewind’ single (from upcoming third album ‘The Worst Show On Earth’). Their gigs are part banging art-punk party and part horror-comedy masked ball, featuring four cranky and disparate bass guitarists; a singing, chanting drummer; and a pair of in-house stage invaders in the shape of a dancing money-chucking pig and a man running wild with a mop.

The assorted masks (hilarious and creepy) and the threatening mannequin/orc lunges may make it all look like an Auton’s cheese-dream or a riot in a Black Lodge dollhouse, but underneath the screaming horse-laughs are a rattling good party band. Over the years, they’ve won over many a psychedelic or underground festival audience and even their own musical heroes (with Killing Joke, Hawkwind and PiL having invited them on for support slots).

Also playing are stomping industrial post-punk duo Nasty Little Lonely, who provide a bandsaw-guitar set of “post apocalyptic decadence, discarded trappings of consumerism gone awry, alienation and small furry creatures with very sharp teeth.” They might possibly be tempted to dance afterwards if you encourage them enough.


January 2018 – upcoming gigs – Moor Mother in London and Leeds (10th and 12th January), with No Home, AlgernonCornelius and Basic Switches

5 Jan

Moor Mother, 10th & 12th January 2018

Over five dense and rapidly-evolving years of releasing and expressing, exploring and pushing, the unification of music and words by Moor Mother (a.k.a. Philly sound art/witness-bearing hip hop interdisciplinarian Camae Ayewa) has become something terrifyingly vital, cathartic and challenging. From the smooth and simple, app-driven, almost homely patchworks of her first EPs, her soundscaping and beat conjuring has developed into a jolting, stirring, often terrifying sonic canvas. Her lightning-raddled masterpiece, 2016’s ‘Fetish Bones’ (hailed at the time as a record of the year by a sweep of critics, from the furious pseudonymous screeders on the most obscure specialised blogs right up to the ponderous proclaimers of ‘Rolling Stone’), could just as equally be record of the year now. Nothing about it has dated, from the explosive Afro-futurist industrial gumbo of its construction to the horrendously untreated, uncorrected misdeeds it chronicles and the righteous rage it swings back with.

Moor Mother, 2017A furious free-electronic beat investigation into the very fabric of American history from its battered black underbelly, the timbre and horror of ‘Fetish Bones’ reveals Camae as a burst but ever-renewing griot – willingly overwhelmed but still fighting the fight that needs to be fought. Her spit of ideas and incriminations are the symptom of an ongoing wound that won’t stop being burst open: “still had enough blood in my throat to gargle up nine words – “I resist to being both the survivor and the victim” – but I know the reality…” A stern, fearless presence, she rides a broken levee’s worth of dirty-historical floodwater and swirling cyclonic indictments, holding American crimes to account – male violence; systematic and institutionalised white brutality against black bodies and souls, or against the nation’s own tormented psyche. Around her voice (sharp beads of slam poetry chorused and gravelled by a flicker of concrete distortion) there’s a massed, jump-cutting collage of industrial-strength beats, chain gang and plantation songs, subway trains rattling into darkness, layered speeches of resistance, samplings of gospel ecstasy crossing into screams of operatic rage. What initially seems like a crazed searchlight, swinging pitilessly and furiously from atrocity to atrocity, rapidly reveals itself as being driven by a diamond-hard intelligence as Camae time-travels back and forth across two American centuries of wrongness, relentlessly weaving her case from aural snapshots of black culture suffering and resisting under the heel that hammers it, and never sugarcoating the price and courage of struggle (“like how mama made biscuits outa nothing, all while having a dope needle in her arm…”)

Camae’s in England next week for a couple of shows in London and in Leeds. These should be unmissable. Dates below (tickets are now down to the last fifty or so in London, though I’m not so sure about Leeds).

  • The Islington, 1 Tolpuddle Street, Angel, London, N1 0XT, England, Wednesday 10th January 2018, 7.30pm – information here, here, here and here
  • Headrow House, Bramley’s Yard, 19 The Headrow, Leeds, Yorkshire, LS1 6PU, England, Friday 12th January 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here

In London, Camae’s supported by No Home, a.k.a. emergent blackgirl punk Charlie Joseph, who blends wounded lo-fi murmurs and nightmare dream-folk blues wails with suffocating doses of peat-bog guitar noise plus brooding sub-bassy post-punk atmospheres: all of which is a sleight-of-hand cover for the vulnerabilities and contradictions of her songwriting (as if a teenaged, slightly more fucked-up Tracy Chapman had hired in Gnod as producers). Charlie’s own cited touchstones include Mitzi’s building-a-girl narratives and the floating, questioning experimental R’n’B identities of Frank Ocean, plus the shifting roots-tronic approach of Bon Iver and the populist indie of The Strokes. Her interesting, elusive lyrics touch on current soul-aches like toxic masculinity, besieged defensiveness and post-capitalist malaise (though they’re a little too slippery to stick there).

Still a little crude and understated (in comparison to the expansive, whip-smart Moor Mother barrage she’s got to warm up for), Charlie’s only just scraped the surface of what she’s got to say. Give her time – and a few more turns in carefully-chosen, blazing-kiln support slots like this one – and I think we’ll be looking at something quite special. Right now, she’s the whispering ghost of her own future.

In Leeds, the local supports are AlgernonCornelius and Basic Switches – the former a trans-Pennine beatsmaker, the latter a one-woman/circuit-bending/voice-and-effects-pedal show by Hilary Knott (from longstanding Leeds punk-pop “idiosyncrats” Cowtown).

Taking tips from Rza, A Tribe Called Quest and J. Dilla, AlgernonCornelius has spent the last couple of years blending and waxing across a range of hip hop/IDM ideas (from his glitch-soul mangling of Minnie Riperton on 2015’s ‘Blind’ to the shimmying RSJ dub of last year’s ‘Blood Claat’). Basic Switches looks like an extension of Hilary’s other circuit-bending project, Skellingtons, in which she aims for “the harshest possible sound” from twee little Yahama and Casio keyboards plus toys, loop pedals and “broken, cheap drum machines that have previously been rejected by all self respecting electronic music makers.” Wilfully tricky to pin down outside of catching her at a live gig, this unguarded live-at-home Christmas mash-take on George Michael should at least give you some idea of how she works.


January 2018 – upcoming London rock gigs – Sonic Bm #1 with Scotti Brains, Black MIDI, Barringtone and Jerskin Fendrix (5th January)

3 Jan

Sonic Bm #1 (Scotti Brains + Black Midi + Barringtone + Jerskin Fendrix), 5th January 2018

The Windmill presents:
Sonic Bm #1: Scotti Brains + Black Midi + Barringtone + Jerskin Fendrix
The Windmill, 22 Blenheim Gardens, Brixton, London, SW2 5BZ, England
Friday 5th January 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here

Playing support to Spratleys Japs at the Windmill back in December, teenage Croydonians Black MIDI (subtitled, variously, “the decibel boys” and “purveyors of the loudest dreamscapes”) managed to win over a pubful of Cardiacs cultists. Not the easiest thing to do and they didn’t do it with post-punk virtuosity or effusive psychedelic complexity but by dogged, determined presence. Artful and awkward (or gawk-ward), in some respects reminiscent of key post-hardcore bands such as Slint and Jesus Lizard (and in others a muted, utterly pared-back Huge Baby), they also sound as if they’ve got there without listening to the records. While a generation of shoegazer revivalists annoy me by clogging up my inbox with ersatz sonic cathedral cliches, Black MIDI arouse my interest by whittling sparse piles of breeze-blocks into mysterious cranky monuments. At the Spratleys gig, I found them elusive to follow, and follow-ups are no easier (their Soundcloud’s vanished down the back of the rehearsal room sofa; their Facebook page currently consists of one post).

Still, they offhandedly own their space onstage: perhaps their secret ingredient might be impeccably fit drummer Morgan Simpson (who might look as if he’s timewarped in from the young Fishbone but seems absolutely at home where he is now) but when you’re dealing with a bandful of stubborn square pegs like this one, any or all of them could be…. Between holding the low notes down or strumming out wooly baritone chord-clouds, bass player Cameron maintains ambiguous eye contact with the audience, like an onstage imposter letting us in on his stunt. One of the guitarists (blessed and cursed with the arched, cruel, elfin eyebrows of Thomas Sangster) looks perpetually affronted, but instead of screaming out tortured emo wails he enunciates rambling, precisely-formed, utterly incomprehensible digressions: like a fiercely introverted baby Peter Hammill, or an exiled punk senator addressing a horde of penguins.

Having already won the adoration of the Windmill’s hardened-but-big-hearted Tim Perry, Black MIDI are curating or inspiring two more Sonic Bm gigs at the Windmill this month, plus one in February, and are playing at all of them. With a rumble spreading about their south London rumble, this feels like the start of something. Just as much as I find it hard to place where Black MIDI come from, I have no idea where they’re going; but they’re the kind of band which excites me via that blank-slate art-punk feeling that they could go anywhere.

Scotti Brains are what happens when professional pop workers suddenly break ranks and decide that what they really want to do is mess with people’s heads in delirious psych-pits, such as Baba Yaga’s Hut or the Crow’s Nest tent at Glastonbury. Unleashed guitarist Dan Carey is better known as producer for Franz Ferdinand, Hot Chip, Bat For Lashes and Toy. He also used to be keyboard player Oli Bayston’s boss before Oli went off to form dance-pop trio Boxed In and to do his own production and writing work for Lianne La Havas, Lily Allen and Anita Blay. Any prodigal-son dynamic in there, though, is amiably ruined by the fact that Oli and Dan have always been fast best friends. This extends to the rest of the band – Dan and drummer Liam Hutton bonded over mutual work for Kate Tempest; Liam and Oli through Oli drumming for Boxed In. Meanwhile, Oli and final bandmember Beth Buxton (provider of intermittent Nico-ish mantras and gnomics) bonded through being husband and wife.

Beyond speculation on motivations (or hugfests), Scotti Brains are simply a damn fine Julian-Cope-ian kickover. Bobbing, cheery, chuffing motoric pop, suddenly elevated by painterly sweeps of acid-wash fuzz guitars which kick in and turn it all tornado before the band plunges into a post-Neu! mountain tunnel, leaving you to tap a Motown tambourine all the way through. Absolutely the kind of thing Cope happily spills beer and blogwords over. They’re also pretty elusive – their only single so far came out as long ago as 2013 while gigs have been infrequent, covert and joyous ram-raids on the aforementioned psych-pits. Catch them now while you’ve got the opportunity.

More cunning motorik-ing come from Barringtone, who’ve been in ‘Misfit City’ before – driving art-poppers who sound like XTC cut-and-shut onto Neu!’s chromium chassis, and specialising in “elevator music for headbangers”. Bandleader Barry Dobbin trails a certain past in the shape of his previous band Clor, which excited pretty much the entire British inky press fifteen years ago, became one of their periodic great-white-hopes, and then vanished with an elegant flick of the tail while on the verge of success when the band felt that the frame simply didn’t fit them.

Since reemerging with Barringtone around five years ago, Barry’s been a fitful releaser. Now you see him, now you don’t. It seems that, rather than heading up a pop factory, he’s chosen to be the equivalent of a hulking silversmith; welding together something immaculate in big hands, then thrusting it at you with a grunt before shooing you out of his forge. Word has it that he’s finally assembled a Barringtone album and that it’ll be out before the middle of this year – which will at least allow me to understand the bigger Barry picture, and to drop most of the Clor references when I talk about his band. Alternatively, we could all go along to this show and attempt to puzzle him out beforehand.

Shropshirean singer-songwriter Jerskin Fendrix plays the cute innocent, the sweetheart with the big glasses and hipster beard who presents himself with guileless open sentences, wants to show you his photo album, and chats about late night TV comedy. I don’t trust him. I think he lies. I think he’s a smart operator with a wise, knowing line in media-savvy one-man synth pop, who uses Autotune like a dance of the seven veils, and who knows how to make use of lo-fi bedsit trappings without being trapped by them. He’ll be playing some songs from his ‘Winterreise’ album about his “exciting holiday to New York”. I’m assuming that this won’t be about dragging his busted heart through snow while encountering horrible metaphorical crows and disappointing mailmen. I also assume that there’s going to be wit and melismatronics aplenty.



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