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January to March 2020 – assorted London gigs – Holly Penfield at 100 Club (8th March) and with Ian Ritchie at the Fiddler’s Elbow (10th January); skewed surf, pop and acoustica with Kenny Process Team, Keith John Adams and The Happy Couple (13th January); Balkan/Gaelic folktronics with Arhai (18th January); plus Minute Taker’s ‘Wolf Hours’ in Manchester (24th January)

7 Jan

Holly PenfieldIf you missed Holly Penfield’s London launch gig for her ‘Tree Woman’ album back at Halloween last year – or if you attended and wanted to see it again – then she’s looping back on herself and staging another one at the 100 Club on 8th March. For those unfamiliar with her, here’s what I wrote (indeed, here’s what I recycled) last time.

“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 The whirling mirror-glass synths and saxophones of the old days have been replaced by a gritty post-Americana rock band (which growls, gnaws and struts through her songs like a Cash or Waits ensemble) while Holly herself has mostly forsaken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 & Ian Ritchie, 10th January 2019If you can’t wait until March, Holly and her multi-instrumentalist husband Ian Ritchie (the latter an ex-Deaf School member recently fresh off playing sax on the Roger Waters tour) will be playing another London gig this coming Friday, up at the Fiddler’s Elbow. This one will be an “experimental thirty-minute duo gig of originals with vintage ‘80s drum machine… interesting, quirky,and challenging!”

Although Holly and Ian are going out under their Cricklewood Cats moniker (under which they’ve previously released a few synth-jazz swing songs), theirs has been a long and varied partnership also encompassing cabaret, out-and-out jazz balladry, noisy rock diva songs and the bewitching sequencer-torch-pop of the ‘Parts Of My Privacy’ album. So you could expect takes on all of the above and more, including some of Holly’s newer songs. At the moment she’s on a serious creative upswing, and there’s rarely been a better time to see her than now.


 

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Kenny Process Team + Keith John Adams + The Happy Couple, 13th January 2020On the following Monday, the reunited and reinvigorated Kenny Process Team launch their own new album, ‘Travlin’ Light With… Kenny Process Team’. Actually, it’s an old one, recorded as a live session over twenty years ago with the band’s 1998 lineup but lost in the abstracted shuffle of the band’s history, which has seen members swap out, disappear, impale themselves on fences and even join Oasis.

Part avant-surf, part Afro-prog and compared in their time to both The Ventures and Captain Beefheart (while proggies will also find parallels with Television and The League of Gentlemen), there’s more on the Kenny Process back story here. In the present, with the addition of Rhodri Marsden as new guitarist (replacing the late Simon King) and thanks to his existing connections with Lost Crowns and Prescott, they’re further cementing their links with London’s current crop of art/prog/psych/cellularists.



 
Also playing is KPT labelmate Keith John Adams. Once Rhodri’s bandmate in zestful 1990s avant-skifflers Zuno Men, for twenty years now Keith has been a solo act coming at acoustic pop from a gently skewed angle, buffeting around friendly lyrical ideas like a sozzled housefly bumping against a lampshade and turning out understated little song-gems as he does so. His accidental forebears might include Robyn Hitchcock, Kevin Ayers; you might also pretend that he’d been dreamed up from some lazy Walthamstow afternoon when Leon Redbone shared a sofa with the young Bill Oddie.



 

Opening the evening is The Happy Couple, the languid instrumental duo formed by Kenny Process drummer Dave Ross and his life partner Judith Goodman, born out of two decades of inseparable love mingling with the inspiration of the Epping Forest woodscapes where they live. Judith plays a variety of open-tuned guitars, predominantly a Weissenborn acoustic slide guitar but also a 4-string tenor and a 3-string cigar box model (plus a mysterious “early English” example which suggests a rewriting of instrumental history). Leaving his drumkit behind, Dave plays a variety of mouth-held lamellophones: a classic American jaw harp, Indian morchangs in both brass and iron, a Norwegian Munnharpe and a mouth bow harp created in Devon. As for the music, it’s a relaxed evocation of companionship, glissando and boing and intersecting rhythms: or, as Judith comments, “it’s about the sounds that happen when we put our sounds together. We just create a world we want to be in.”



 
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Arhai, 18th January 2020

The following Saturday, British/Serbian electronic folk project Arhai slip into the little cellar at the Harrison to deliver their own electro-acoustic atmospheres. A two-decade-long project led by singer/composer Jovana Backovic, they were a traditional Serbian acoustic octet for their first ten years, gradually shifting into electric terrain before dissolving and allowing Jovana to form the current duo with British multi-instrumental specialist Adrian Lever (mediaeval dulcimer, hammered dulcimer, guitar, tambura, Bulgarian lute etc). Now they’re Balkan-cum-Gaelic, intertwining ancient and technological: or, as they put it “rethinking the archetypal modes of music performance in the context of modernity”. Which sometimes means they’re ultra-accessible and synth-quilty in the familiar Clannad model, and sometimes means that they’re off and racing like a cross between izvorna and a hyperspatial hip hop track.




 
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All of the above events will be in London: for the next one, you’ll need to head up to Manchester, where singer, songwriter and electronic pop creator Ben McGarvey, a.k.a. Minute Taker, is unveiling his multi-media performance ‘Wolf Hours’. Ben is no stranger to mixing theatre and music, having already presented a love-and-ghosts story on tour with ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ featuring animations from Ana Stefaniak. ‘Wolf Hours’ is an even more ambitious undertaking – “a unique performance combining mesmerising film with a dynamic live soundtrack. From forbidden love in the First World War, to the pain and rage of AIDS, to contemporary hedonism and heartbreak, ‘Wolf Hours’ explores the stories of gay men at different points in time through their dreams. This series of stunning new short films (directed by John Lochland, Joe Stringer, Kirk Sylvester, Raphaël Neal and Ben McGarvey) are accompanied throughout by Minute Taker performing an intimate musical and vocal score that both builds the atmosphere and pulls on the heartstrings. Visually explosive and emotionally thrilling, ‘Wolf Hours’ transports the audience through pleasure, grief, lust, joy and our collective historical imagination.”



 
In this interview with ‘Superbia’, Ben expounds on the approach he took when putting together ‘Wolf Hours’, which he describes as “jumbled-up memories, fears and fantasies.. It’s presented a bit like late night TV from back in the ’80s and ’90s (when anything queer was relegated to an after-midnight slot!) with different programmes and images emerging out of the static as you drift in and out of sleep… I also decided to include lots of archive footage in the show, which explores the way homosexuality has been portrayed in the media over the years… all of the stuff that finds its way into the subconscious minds of the characters as they lie awake at night, having an effect on how they view themselves and the gay community.” He’s hoping to take the show out on a broader tour much later this year, but for now this is all that you’re getting…

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Dates:

Holly Penfield & Ian Ritchie: The Cricklewood Cats
The Fiddler’s Elbow, 1 Malden Road, Kentish Town, London, NW5 3HS, England
Friday 10th January, 2020, 8.20pm
– no information links, just turn up…

Kenny Process Team + Keith John Adams + The Happy Couple
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Monday 13th January 2020, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Folk and Roots presents:
Arhai
The Harrison, 28 Harrison Street, Kings Cross, London, WC1H 8JF, England
Saturday 18th January 2020, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Minute Taker presents ‘Wolf Hours’
Hope Mill Theatre, 113 Pollard Street, Beswick, Manchester, M4 7JA, England
Friday 24th January 2020, 8:00pm
– information here and here

Holly Penfield
The 100 Club, 100 Oxford Street, Soho, London, W1D 1LL, England
Sunday 8th March 2020, time t.b.c.
– no information links yet
 

October 2019 – upcoming London rock, pop, noise, dancetronic gigs – Hurtling, Stephen Evens and Junodef (17th October); Gum Takes Tooth and Hyperstition Duo (18th October); Bunny Hoova, Gribs, J.B. Glaser and Halfs (18th October)

8 Oct

Hurtling + Stephen Evens + Junodef, 17th October 2019

Alt-rock trio Hurtling (fronted by My Bloody Valentine tour noisemaker Jen Macro) have a debut record to offer you – ‘Future From Here’, on Onomatopeia Records – and are launching it at north London’s The Islington in the middle of October. Their sound’s relatively easy to peg – post-Pixies, post-grunge, post-dreampop – but difficult to dismiss. There’s a full cupboardful of familiar indie rock ingredients to hand, but all reshuffled and re-examined via Jen’s particular perspective and inspired by the disorientations of touring, the displacement of emotions, the waywardness of health: the bumps and setbacks of a bright, questioning human organism pushed into too much motion. Sometimes, despite the noisy ethic, it’s surprisingly gentle; sometimes sludgy guitar parts pile up like rainbow cement ooze; sometimes it’s all about the vocal harmonies.



 
Once upon a time, most of Hurtling were part of cunningly witty indie/artpop sloggers stuffy/the fuses, and their glowering former employer (and current Onomatopeia labelmate) Stephen Evens is also on hand for the evening: ostensibly in a support slot, but probably to keep a dyspeptic jaded eye on them and to crush their remaining youthful dreams beneath his tapping boot. He’s playing solo – probably with guitar, microsynth and anything else portable which he fancies and which comes to hand – and is still working his own 2017 debut album, ‘Bonjour Poulet’. Which is fine, since it was excellent: a mordant larderful of creaky treats which revealed themselves to be gappy armour-plate wrapped around a surprisingly tender heart. He’ll probably give you all that sardonic, seen-it-all expression: actually, he’ll be pleased to see you.



 
London-based Swedish “post-death music” quartet Junodef fill the other support slot. Their debut single, a soft-strummed slice of spectral folk with additional Gothic guitar boom and the bleakness of a death metal song, was called Make You Die. Subsequent work hasn’t travelled too far from those initial emotional roots, although they’ve toyed with spooky progressive rock keyboards, acid rock shadings and lingering dark-country embellishments (the latter suiting both the paired vocals of Tyra Örnberg and Karin Grönkvist and their admiration for Emma Ruth Rundle and Chelsea Wolfe).

More recently Junodef have been feeding in noirish elements from trip-hop and droning electronica, citing inspiration by Portishead and Young Fathers. At the same time, they’ve upped their Bad Seeds clang and their clarity and put greater emphasis on their visual work, resulting in their most vividly fleshed-out songs and atmospheres yet. Don’t expect floppy Goth ragdolls: this band has a tough core, and a storytelling streak that’s just beginning to come into its own.



 

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Gum Takes Tooth + Hyperstition Duo, 18th October 2019In the same week, on the following day, relentless psychedelic noise-fosterers Baba Yaga’s Hut are putting on a Bethnal Green gig for block-party-inspired thunder-twosome Gum Takes Tooth. Singer/electronic bombardier Jussi Brightmore and wired-up drummer Thomas Fuglesang have been at this for a decade now, producing a music that’s
grinding and urgent, slow yet filled with unnerving impetus.

As with plenty of British acts on the weird/occult cusp, Gum Takes Tooth are fascinated by ritual (attempting to initiate it in both their recorded output and, more significantly, in their live performances) and with the jarring subconscious impact on the human animal from the mechanisms of technology, hierarchy and blunt cultural forces which surround us. Their last record, ‘Arrow‘, focussed on London gentrification from the perspective of those squashed under or flicked aside by its well-heeled, well-polished bespoke shoes; and on the savage simultaneous pressures from above to indulge the inner beast in competition, in nationalism, in a fracturing of common responsibility and empathy. While writing ‘Arrow’, Jussi saw all of this as a kind of cultural intoxication with the emphasis on toxic: it gave the duo a musical and moral focus which they’ve pursued ever since.



 
A couple of years ago, open-minded Sheffield Afrobeat/noise/dance-pop combiners Blood Sport called it a day. Two-thirds of them – drummer Sam Parkin and guitarist/Octatracker Alex Keegan – have since resurfaced as Hyperstition Duo, a blistering stew of kit-rattles and synth noise smudging and battering the line between live gig and avant-garde DJ electronica. They’ll be supporting Gum Takes Tooth on this occasion: but where the headliners favour slower pace and a ritual weight, the Hyperstitioneers prefer a break-neck-speed informational barrage.

At the end of this past summer, Hyperstition Duo released their debut EP ‘Virotechnics‘. There’s the usual jargonated hype to go with it – “summoning egregors of the Anthropocene, (they) plunge deep to deliver a maximalist collective immersion into their own lysergic phonosphere. Lurching, polyrhythmic pathways crumble and re-assemble; elastic dynamics snap; propulsion sparks from the nerve-centre of machine and corporeal entanglement… templexing, möbius loops and cybernetic subjectivities abound in an attempt to conjure escape vectors in a world of ubiquitous sound.” For once, the texture of the press release – a plunge into lathering, urgent verbalisation – actually fits the texture of the music.



 
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Overlapping the Gum Takes Tooth/Hyperstition Duo concert, Ben Vince’s south-east London clubnight Ellipsis (blending strands and clumps of experimental dance and experimental pop) ventures up north to Dalston on the same night for an evening of seamless switching between stage and DJ deck. I’ve not encountered Ellipsis before, but I’m impressed with what I’m finding out now.

Bunny Hoova + Gribs + J.B. Glaser + Halfs, 18th October 2019

To headline this time, Ben’s enticed the perplexing Dutch-born Mancunian Bunny Hoova down for her full-band London debut. Her work is simultaneously delightful and frustrating. At its simplest, it’s a kind of fall-apart dream pop – intermittent rhythms, addled guitar chording and bass thumbing, a cloudwork of woven-in samples, and a constant tripping over unvoiced questions, obscured conclusions and the track-loops of the thought-train. But while most dream-pop sinks into a narcotized structural conservatism (strumming away in the same key while admiring the whorls of sound coming through the pedalboard), Bunny’s material seems constantly uncomfortable, actively intelligent, and hovering at the midpoint between insight and misdirection. She’s been yoked in with experimental pop deconstructors/faux-idiot savants like Tirzah and Micachu, and I can see why. There’s that classical conservatoire training: coyly hinted at in the PR, for extra credit, but in practise forced off into the distance like a spurned aunt (even as it’s being used as the counterweight to punkish anti-technique). There’s the idea that the usual rules of pop song and riff culture are being scorned in a meticulous matter-of-fact way via an admixture of free play and cerebral manifesto.

Plenty of the songs on Bunny’s debut album, ‘Longing’, have the sensual drag-and-tug rhythm of slow jams; but rather than focussing a mood or a regular pace, they wander off at instinctive mental tangents or hiccup into a different arrangement; the instruments and samples entwining in a scratchy, bewildered, irregular intimacy. At times she seems to be taking up an erratic desert map scrawled by Captain Beefheart and attempting to apply it to close urban living. At other times, she seems to be spontaneously transposing into song experimental short stories about offbeat relationships, jolting encounters or small moments which change the course of a life; rich in detail and significance, short on conclusion. Plot and flavour are stretched out and split into gobbets, like odd-shaped beads necklaced on a guitar string. Her most-talked-about song, Lazy_Easy, is a scrubbing, slurred, pointed dissection-tract covering both the implicit and explicit links between consumerist culture and animal cruelty: more of a wall-collage with blended-in musical notes than an actual song. The world she flits through feels as rickety as a condemned flat; one that she’s too good for and shouldn’t have to live with, but which she has to accommodate and fit her voice to.




 
Also playing are a mixed bag of London and Manchester electronic experimentalists with bedroom studios. Gribs is a creative DJ and electronic musician, a label co-boss (Tobago Tracks) who in her own music weaving connections between straight-up dance music (trap, jungle, bass culture) and lo-fi DIY sound-and-voice experiments. There’s a distinct edge of discomfort to her work: not so much or so often that it repels, but her found vocals and implied song characters seem uneasy, morbidly eccentric or disassociated from the music’s rhythmic propulsion or sensual salve.

More DJ-ing and deckmixing comes from J.B. Glazer, another London-based creator of peculiar counter-intuitive dance music: for him, a kind of relentlessly alienated mirror-image R&B, all of its comfort and slickness rusted away into disassociative ennui. In the work of both Glazer and Gribs, there’s an echo of chopped-and-screwed culture: the slowing, the altered-state disconnections and new connections, the sense that they’re using alienation as a kind of gatekeeper (if you like dance but are prepared to discard much of its qualities of release or of socializing, then perhaps you can squeeze through this door).

Rounding things out (or upsetting any remaining unspilled applecarts) there’s the mysterious and performative Halfs – from what I can work out, a try-anything beat-making romper on Manchester’s queer arts scene. I’ve found a very fruity synthdance EP of his/theirs from 2017, so there are a few slurps of its whooping dayglo industrial tones below. There have also been percussion-favouring mixtapes and albums which have been whipped capriciously on and off Soundcloud, but are gone now: other than that, there seems to be involvement with scratch theatre, video and so on. In order to properly keep up with Halfs, you need to subscribe (both literally, and in terms of consistent loyalty) so just consider this vague, semi-accurate plug of mine to be a jumping-on point and take it from there.


 
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Dates:

Onomatopoeia Records presents:
Hurtling + Stephen Evens + Junodef
The Islington, 1 Tolpuddle Street, Islington, London, N1 0XT, England
Thursday 17th October 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Baba Yaga’s Hut presents:
Gum Takes Tooth + Hyperstition Duo
The Sebright Arms, 33-35 Coate Street, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9AG, England
Friday 18th October 2019, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

Ellipsis presents:
Bunny Hoova + Gribs + J.B. Glaser + Halfs
SET (Dalston Lane), 27a Dalston Lane, Dalston, London, E8 3DF, England
Friday 18th October 2019, 9.00pm
– information here and here
 

October 2019 – upcoming London experimental gigs – Retrophonica at the Brunel Museum (13th); Charles Hayward presents Sly & The Family Drone, V Ä L V Ē, Timestretch Alarmsong and Atatat (19th)

5 Oct

Retrophonica, 13th October 2019

Retrophonica is a new, very accessible multi-media performance project; currently focussed on the branching aerials, primal wooo and touch-me-not anticipations of theremin playing. It’s launching itself with an evening of two (identical) concerts in the yawning brick gullet of the Brunel Museum’s Grand Entrance Chamber (also known as the top of the southern Thames Tunnel shaft).

Celebrating the instrument’s centenary, these will be an “immersive evening of music for theremin and full orchestra”, while delving into the story of the instrument’s creator, Léon Theremin. From here, it sounds as if the concerts will be a cross between a pops-orchestra occasion, a slide-show history lesson writ large and a session of nostalgic avant-garde tinkering; all of it enclosed in that bleak, beautiful and magnificently functional Victorian civil-engineering maw.

As they say themselves,“prepare for an immersive audio-visual experience, complemented by cocktails, lightshow, and narration, featuring original and adapted music for theremin by Dmitri Shostakovich, Bohuslav Martinů, Miklós Rózsa, Les Baxter, Claude Debussy and John Williams, performed by Retrophonica with thereminist Charlie Draper, new arrangements and works by Alex Palmer, and bespoke narration from author Ken Hollings.”



 
You might already know Charlie from all manner of bookings, everywhere, for both theremin and ondes martenot: here’s an earlier mention. Alex has written and arranged extensively for theatre, film and concert hall, and looks as if he’ll be adding the sweeter edge to the evening. As for Ken, although I suspect that he’ll be operating on calmer terms tonight, he’s most likely to be the one to toss in a wild card or two. Having started work in the 1970s as a literary factual editor (how ominous such a description sounds now) he went on to an early-’80s spell as vocalist and cut-up’er in Manchester post-punk band Biting Tongues, followed by an expansion into essays, libretti and experimental fiction (all of which have dipped into and across other disciplines from Japanese films to twentieth-and-twenty-first century politics to data structures).

I’ve no idea who’s contributed the orchestra. As for the cocktails, there’s no further word on them; nor on how you might mix one called a Thames Tunnel.

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Just under a week later, downriver at Deptford, London art-rock/post-punk/improvisation godfather Charles Hayward will be putting together the second of this year’s “genre-fluid” Charles Hayward Presents concerts at the Albany, unfurling “new sounds from the underground and outsider scenes of London and beyond” and massing together elements of jazz/improv, art punk, noise, contemporary classical and electronic music.

Charles Hayward Presents..., 19th October 2019According to Charles himself, his own performance centrepiece will be the project-cum-band Timestretch Alarmsong… a sequence of tunes and sound snakes that I’ve put together with Tom Challenger (Dice Factory/Ma saxophonist), Yoni Silver (multi-instrumentalist with Hyperion Ensemble and many others), Roberto Sassi (Cardosanto/Anatrofobia/Snorkel guitarist), Nick Doyne-Ditmas (double bassist and Hayward collaborator in Monkey Puzzle Trio).

“It’s tightly rehearsed and goes through a wide range of attitudes and (more importantly) emotional energies. To my ears it’s super exciting and I feel like we’ve pushed at a few barriers and come up with something new that has melody, shape and grooves from light to super heavy/dark. There’s no clips available but we will be recording the project for future release. All the players are fantastic musicians and working on the project has been a study in joyful cooperation.”

In the absence of a collective clip, here’s a scatter of solo ones and examples of related projects:





 
Three other acts join in for the night. ‘Gentle Persuaders’, the latest album from contemporary drum/noise/saxophone ritualists Sly & The Family Drone – is intended as “the politest of bludgeonings”; its creators still merge Ayler-esque free jazz, industrial rock pummel, celebratory machine hiss and the loose-hanging exploratory feel of a bass-less duo. They also still give out drums at their concerts, inviting a congregation of noise.



 
Also back in the fray is V Ä L V Ē, with music that’s less workshop than workshed. Strongly DIY (featuring reed instruments, electronics, invented gizmos, bass guitar, concert harp and singing women), it’s the sound of a trio of highly trained musical minds phasing back into spontaneity and play. A sort of three-way attempt to become idiot savants via assorted glitchery and boink, semi-spontaneous nursery rhymes and tunelets and musical devices (built out of shelves, tobacco tins, old house bells and similar Branestawmery), but via a female pattern.


 
Finally, there’s Atatat – a solo project from Liverpool art-freak music mainstay J.C. Barbara (best known as drummer/ranter for aPAtT and Barberos, and here using a very Haywardian array of drums, contact mics, loops and vocals).


 
Designer Raimund Wong (whose work has adorned posters and releases by Total Refreshment Centre, Church Of Sound and Baba Yaga’s Hut, and who shares Charles’ interest in chance theory and the ingenuity forced on artists via DIY minimalism) will be DJ-ing.

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Dates:

Retrophonica
Brunel Museum, Railway Avenue, Rotherhithe, London, SE16 4LF, England
Sunday 13th October 2019, 6.00pm & 8:30pm
– information here, here and here

Charles Hayward Presents… (featuring Sly & The Family Drone + VÄLVĒ + Timestretch Alarmsong + Atatat + DJ Raimund Wong)
The Albany, Douglas Way, Deptford, SE8 4AG London, United Kingdom
Saturday, 19 October 2019, 7.30pm
– 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:

September/November 2019 – upcoming rock/folk/psychedelic gigs – My Octopus Mind on tour in Bristol, London and Lille (5th & 6th September, 27th November), Daniel O’Sullivan and Brigid Mae Power in London (13th September)

29 Aug

My Octopus Mind

Now with a debut album behind them (‘Maladyne Cave‘, which popped out last month), propulsive, eclectic, electro-acoustic Bristolians My Octopus Mind are revving up for another handful of dates in England and France for early and mid-autumn.

As I’ve mentioned before, the band “occupy a pleasing position, settled in their own web of connections between a number of different influences but reliant upon none of them.” ‘Maladyne Cave’ reveals how they’ve worked through those inspirations to the full and springboarded to something more urgent and stirring in its own right– strings, twitches and harmonic jumps from Balkan folk and Indian raga; influxes of shifting-terrain jazz rhythms from the interplay of double bass and drumkit, a post-minimalist precision, and surges of distorted amplifier-frying art rock allied to prog atmospherics and dynamics (from acoustic shoegazery to Zeppelin electric-folk drone). Overall, though, it’s about the way all of this is enabled by the mushrooming complexity of Liam O’Connell’s songwriting, a set of shifting organic moods and associations which package up personal restlessness, jokes, retributive snarls (about exploitation and bad politics), Patton-esque character vocals and more.

Other close cousins to what My Octopus Mind currently do would be the psychedelic garlandings of Knifeworld or the more out-there voyagings of The Verve, the protracted lilting commentaries of Damien Rice, and whatever Fyfe Dangerfield’s up to these days; while MOM themselves cite Radiohead, Josh Homme, the Buckleys, Jose Gonzalez and raga/Tagore song specialist Rajeswar Bhattacharya (there’s a version of the latter’s Anundena on ‘Maladyne Cave’). Ultimately, though, the band are already establishing their own identity: a strong debut firming out what should be a lively career. Hopefully they’ll bring out their string section on tour this time. If not, the sinewy acoustic power trio at the heart of the band (with Isaac Ellis taking a bow to his resonantly booming, textured double bass when needs must) has already proved itself well capable of holding an audience rapt.



 
While there doesn’t seem to be anyone else playing at Bristol, the London gig features a set from past-pop masher-upper-in-chief/swing & bass pioneer DJ Fizzy Gillespie. Playing both host and support at Lille are local latterday heavy/alt.rock trio Paranoid, fronted by émigré Matthew Bush, billed as grunge and citing an undying loyalty to Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana (as well as to Radiohead and newer Biffy Clyro, to whom their driving, punchy, quick-raid songs arguably have the most similarities).

 
* * * * * * * *

Although his Westminster Kingsway College gig in in June was cancelled at the last minute, Daniel O’Sullivan is back playing live in London mid-September. Since it seems a shame for what I wrote last time round to get buried, here it is again:

Daniel O-Sullivan + Brigid Mae Power, 13th September 2019

“It’s easy enough to own a varied music collection; to shuffle quickly and smoothly between folk music, noise, synthtronica, experimental psychedelia, arthouse sound design, prog, proto-punk, pseudo-Zeuhl and the rest. It’s quite another to work, as a creative musician, across all of these: inevitably some purist will call you out as a fraud or a daytripper. Daniel, however, has made a name for himself as one of the few people who can apparently flit and slide between the scenes without being stalled by suspicion or rejection. Formidable multi-instrumental skills help, as does his apparent willingness to be a utility man as often as a leader. Over two decades, he’s piled up a pyramid of projects – his own Mothlife and Miasma & the Carousel of Headless Horses; duo work with Miracle or Grumbling Fur; a stint effectively directing Guapo; contributions to live and studio work with Ulver, Sunn O))) and This Is Not This Heat; plus sound installations and soundtracks in the fine art and cinema worlds. During the course of this, no-one’s fingered him as an interloper; no-one seems to have frozen him out. It’s a rare talent to be so ubiquitous, so flexible – or so insidious.



 
“Daniel’s most recent album, ‘Folly’, is the second one he’s released under his own name, pursuing something more intimate and personal. Written around the death of a friend and the birth of a son, it sees him continuing to tack away from the experimental rock he made his reputation with in favour of hushed, rich-textured chamber folk, burnished like a picture window by the warm depth of Thighpaulsandra’s production. Still ,a psychedelic perspective follows in its wake, like a contrail of blossom; easily found in the swirl of instrumentation and in the way that Daniel dips in and (more often) out of straightforwardness like a flying fish, offering transient reveals and kaleidoscopic digressions. Live, he’ll be performing solo and won’t be able to dodge behind the arrangements, but will be inviting up a couple of special guests to play along.”

In contrast to the solo gig that was planned for Westminster Kingsway, the Lexington gig will feature Daniel’s full electro-acoustic Dream Lyon Ensemble octet, featuring frequent collaborators Peter Broderick, Thighpaulsandra and Knut Sellevold (of Elektrofant, King Knut), Astrud Steehouder of Paper Dollhouse, dronester Christos Fanaras, Frank Byng on drums and Chlöe Herington on reeds.


 

Supporting Daniel (and probably with Peter Broderick helping out) is Irish singer-songwriter Brigid Mae Power, whose multi-instrumental, multi-layered contemporary folk songs have been causing a stir since the release of her debut album in 2016. Her second album, ‘The Two Worlds’ brings more of them into the world: dark-toned, literate, dreamy, deceptively calm but gradually revealing undercurrents of hope, strength and survival set against sinister depths of intimation.


 
* * * * * * * *
Dates:

My Octopus Mind on tour:

  • The Canteen, 80 Stokes Croft, Bristol, BS1 3QY, England – Thursday 5th September 2019, 9.00pm – information here
  • The Magic Garden, 231 Battersea Park Road, Battersea, London, SW11 4LG, England – Friday 6th September 2019, 9.00pm (with DJ Fizzy Gillespie)– information here
  • La Rumeur, 57 rue de Valenciennes, 59000 Lille, France – Wednesday 27th November 2019, 8.00pm (with Paranoid + guest) – information here

Upset the Rhythm presents:
Daniel O’Sullivan (octet) + Brigid Mae Power
The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, England
Friday 13 September 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

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