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June 2017 – upcoming London/German gigs – Lindsay Cooper remembered by Half The Sky (22nd June – plus Avantgarde Festival appearance on 25th June)

15 Jun
Half The Sky, 22nd June 2017

Half The Sky (photo © Jean-Hervé Péron)

Long before the knot of current pop culture wrangling over women’s control over the music they make, the late Lindsay Cooper was plugging away in her own corner, striving (and ultimately succeeding) for much the same thing in the often arid and unforgiving spaces of British art rock, improv and jazz. Later this month, the Half The Sky ensemble (led by vigorous curator/arranger /multi-instrumentalist Yumi Hara) will be bringing their showcase of her music both to London and to a small town outside Hamburg, re-animating the work she created for Henry Cow, News From Babel and Music For Films between the late ’70s and the mid-’80s.

Originally formed in 2015 for festival appearances in Japan and France, Half The Sky derive their name from the Maoist/feminist maxim, “women hold up half the sky”, as used by Lindsay as a composition title on Henry Cow’s ‘Western Culture’ album, back in 1978) and feature an impressive alliance of British and Japanese art-rock musicians. As well as Yumi on keyboards, lever harp and vocals, the ensemble features two members of Cicala-Mvta (Miwazow on koto, ching-dong percussion and voice; Wataru Okhuma on alto saxophone and clarinet), the Korekyojinn/Altered States bass guitarist Nasuno Mitsuru; Chlöe Herington (the reeds and melodica player from Knifeworld, Chrome Hoof and V Ä L V Ē) and finally two of Lindsay’s former Henry Cow/News From Babel colleagues (singer Dagmar Krause and drummer Chris Cutler). As Yumi points out, “the gender split follows Lindsay’s general practice and the example of the original bands – Henry Cow (50% female) and News from Babel (75% female).”

Yumi’s comments on the music:

“In 2013, soon after Lindsay passed away, Matthew Watkins made a call for arrangements of her mini-composition ‘Slice’ for a special edition of his podcast ‘Canterbury Sans Frontières‘. I made a transcription of the piece and recorded it for solo clavichord. Chris Cutler and I also played it in Japan and New York. A little later, inspired by the three memorial concerts Chris Cutler organised in 2014 with the original bands, I put Half The Sky together to play Lindsay’s music in Japan.

“With the exception of ‘Slice’, it was only after – and because of – the 2014 concerts that any working scores for the Henry Cow pieces became available, having been painstakingly assembled from Lindsay’s notebooks, original band-members’ surviving parts and careful analysis of the recordings. A handful of the News from Babel songs – none of which had ever been performed live – had already been reconstructed for the memorial concert by Zeena Parkins; the rest I had to work out from scratch – as well as rearranging everything for a mixture of occidental and oriental instruments.

“This programme is approached very much as a music of the present – and not as an academic reconstruction.”

In addition to Half The Sky’s performance, the London show will feature DJ sets from two of London’s more interesting musical personalities. Marina Organ’s known both for three decades of staunch work as writer/co-driving force of ‘Organ’ magazine and for her indefatigable DJ/interviewing work on ‘The Other Rock Show’. James Larcombe is the keyboard player and sometime composer with Stars In Battledress, Arch Garrison, North Sea Radio Orchestra, Zag & The Coloured Beads and the William D. Drake band; now he seems to be extending his talents (or at least his brassy neck), to disc-spinning.

Half the Sky: Music of Lindsay Cooper

  • Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England, Thursday 22nd June 2017, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Avantgarde Festival, Steinhorster Weg 2, 23847 Schiphorst, Deutschland, Sunday 25th June 2017, 2.15pm – information here and here


 
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Pinning down the nature of a woman’s work in art – or women’s work in general – is not always an easy thing, nor even desirable. Even the most positive intentions can produce more restrictive categories, more unwanted boxings and demands to conform. In the case of Lindsay, whose career always foregrounded honest effort and end product over personality showboating, and which was tinted by doubt and determination, it’s probably best to concentrate mostly on the mind behind the music: to listen to the querying voice coming through.

Operating over a set of times in which both contemporaries and colleagues had a tendency towards answers and stances, stated in both bald pronouncements and modernist-baroque ornamentations, she opted to bring a more questioning tone which nonetheless carried some of its possible answers in both action and presentation. Hers was a polymathic but purer musicality: an instrumental voice which voyaged alongside others’ often harsher pronouncements, détournements and doctrines and drew from them while never being subject to them, and which always kept a gentler, more accommodating side open to allow growing space and to consistently rebuild.

Although she also put in stints with both the cheery Canterbury fusioneering of National Health and the terrifying dark-folk band Comus during the 1970s, Lindsay was probably best known for her work with the powerful political chamber-prog of proto-Rock In Opposition ensemble Henry Cow (a creative ferment which she joined and left twice and, like most Cow-ers, never entirely left behind). Having initially brought in her toolkit of reeds, woodwind and piano skills to play on the band’s second album ‘Unrest’, she subsequently made small inroads into the writing, contributing to a number of group compositions on ‘In Praise of Learning’ and the ‘Concerts’ set. As a composer, though, she finally came into her own on the band’s final, all-instrumental statement ‘Western Culture’, on which she was responsible for most of the piled jazzy grandeur of the second side (finding previously unexplored links between the music of New York, Canterbury and Switzerland).

Lindsay Cooper

Lindsay Cooper

Perhaps more significantly, by this point in the late ’70s Lindsay had already formed the witty, subversive Feminist Improvising Group, or FIG; a project which she co-ran with vocalist Maggie Nichols in parallel with her Cow work. Generally considered to be the preoccupation and property of educated, intense, white men, the British and European free improvising of the time tended to be a little short on jokes (bar occasional pranking along the lines of the Free Art Research Trio). FIG allied Lindsay and Maggie with various other musical and performance talents – “feminist rock” trumpeter Corine Liensol (who’d played in Jam Today with a young Deirdre Cartwright), pianist Cathy Williams (who’d worked with another Cow-er, Geoff Leigh, in the Rag Doll duo), future filmmaker Sally Potter, latterday Cow cellist Georgie Born and Swiss free-jazz pianist Irène Schweizer (the last being allegedly the only European female improviser on the ‘60s and ‘70s scene). In classic feminist tradition, FIG not only enabled previously sidelined female voices onto the improv scene but deliberately upturned expectations as to what such a scene could achieve.

In comparison to the demanding and abstruse Maoist politics of Henry Cow (which, in private, sometimes resembled a brutally masculine university debating society preoccupied with games of political high-grounding), FIG were spontaneous, mutually supportive and – just as importantly – funny. With a strong and personal rooting in lesbian, class-based and feminist activism (plus parallel feelings of sidelining and denial on the part of others) but a suspicion of dogma, they expressed frustration and political challenge by drawing on a collective sense of the absurd and of the sympathetic. In addition to the music, their shows featured parodic stagings and examinations of domestic work (such as kitchenwork and cleaning) and of consumer preoccupations. Vegetables were peeled onstage; household tools such as dustpans and brooms pressed into service as props and noisemakers; oppressive or manipulative memes transformed into call-and-response singing.

Reading accounts of FIG work reveals a tale of tough gigs, audience misunderstandings and frequent frustration. Men carped, frowned and cold-shouldered; women laughed, argued and sometimes welcomed; the group members continually challenged their own sense of self and role; but the work itself sounds joyously unshackled – something I would have loved to have been around to see. It’s a shame that much improv and theatrical work is always of the moment and tends to vanish like dew in the morn. Without recorded evidence or restaging, it fades into hearsay, and in this case an important chapter in Lindsay’s work has to dwell in a kind of word-of-mouth samizdat.

Post-Cow and FIG, Lindsay ran her own Film Music Orchestra to create and record arthouse soundtracks (often working in cinematic cahoots with Sally Potter). She rejoined another former Cow colleague ((the now-mellowed Chris Cutler) for the 1980s post-Marxist art-song project News From Babel: here, Chris’ social and political musings would make a happier marriage with the pop-cabaret end of Lindsay’s music. She also contributed to the counter-cultural jazz colours of various Mike Westbrook and John Wolf Brennan bands, played with Pere Ubu ranter David Thomas, worked in theatre and (in the ’90s) composed a more formal chamber music which nonetheless retained the edge and inquiring spirit of her work in avant-rock and political art. She’d collaborate with Potter again for the Cold War song cycle ‘Oh, Moscow’ in the late ’80s, to which Chris Cutler also contributed. If encroaching multiple sclerosis (which had privately dogged her throughout her post-Cow career) hadn’t dragged her into early retirement in the late ’90s, there would have been more.

Half The Sky provide a welcome re-introduction to Lindsay’s work, performed by committed people whose sympathy with Lindsay Cooper’s music is absolute. However, they should also be viewed as a window onto the wider career of a quietly remarkable woman whose death in 2013 forced a premature coda onto the work of a mind whose personal humility had been more than balanced by its nimbleness, thoughtful and flexibility. Come along to these concerts and hear some of that mindwork and heartwork come alive again.


 

June 2017 – the month’s Daylight Music gigs in London – Jherek Bischoff, Emma Gatrill & Liam Byrne (June 3rd); Epic45, The Great Albatross, and BJ Cole & Emily Burridge (June 10th); Louis Barabbas, Melissa Parmenter and Ben McManus & Clara Delfina (June 17th); Trans-Siberian March Band, Antony Elvin & His Men and Toby Hay (June 24th)

25 May

The people behind eclectic, free, family-friendly London event (and ‘Misfit City’ favourite) Daylight Music are swirling back into action in June with four weekly gigs to start their summer season (even if two of them aren’t nominally DM events, the Daylight imprint shows clearly). Here’s me simply boosting the existing signal…

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Daylight Music 252, 3rd June 2017

Arctic Circle presents:
Daylight Music 252 – Jherek Bischoff + Emma Gatrill + Liam Byrne
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 3rd June 2017, 12.00pm
– free event (recommended donation: £5.00) – information

“Only Jherek Bischoff would record an album in an empty, two-million-gallon underground water tank (with a reverb delay lasting forty-five seconds). A fabulously inventive and playful musician, Jherek is a mostly self-taught composer whose music dazzles, confounds and delights.

 
Liam Byrne divides his time between playing very old and very new music on the viol. ‘The Times’ praised his “nuanced and expressive, stylish virtuosity”. He’s worked with artists including Damon Albarn, Nils Frahm and Matthew Herbert, and the likes of Nico Muhly have written works for him.

 
Emma Gatrill is a multi-instrumentalist based in Brighton. Playing live, she augments her harp and vocal with ambient analogue synths and drums machines, layered with guitar atmospherics from Marcus Hamblett.”


 
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Daylight Music 253, 10th June 2017
Arctic Circle presents:
Daylight Music 253 – Epic45 + The Great Albatross + BJ Cole & Emily Burridge
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 10th June 2017, 12.00pm
– free event (recommended donation: £5.00) – information

“The much-loved epic45 — championed by the much-missed John Peel — have been making music for over twenty years. Their celebrated EPs and albums are inspired by the ever-changing English landscapes.


 
The Great Albatross tug gently on the heartstrings with their sweetly shimmering indie songs. Formed in Glasgow by A. Wesley Chung (formerly of Boris Smile), the group has an expansive, international list of contributors and collaborators.


 
“If you had to combine any two instruments, you might not immediately think of putting cello and steel guitar together, but BJ Cole and Emily Burridge confound expectations with their dynamic, sophisticated music. Hailed as “languorous, sensuous, moving music…amazing!” by ‘Art Nouveau’, these fine musicians weave around each other, mixing their intuitive improvisations with inspired, moving interpretations of classic pieces.”


 
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Louis Barabbas, Melissa Parmenter + Ben McManus & Clara Delfina, 17th June 2017

Arctic Circle presents:
Louis Barabbas + Melissa Parmenter + Ben McManus & Clara Delfina
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 17th June 2017, 12.00pm
– free event (recommended donation: £5.00) – information

Louis Barabbas is a Daylight Music favourite, thrilling the audience and tearing up the stage with his caustic love songs and energetic show. A writer, performer and label director, he’s performed all over the world and shared stages with acts including Motörhead, Supergrass and The Blockheads.


 
Melissa Parmenter is a well-respected film producer, who’s collaborated closely with director Michael Winterbottom over the last fifteen years, including producing all three series of ‘The Trip’ trilogy. She’s also an accomplished composer and pianist, having scored a number of films including ‘Genova’, ‘The Killer Inside Me’ and ‘Comes A Bright Day’.


 
“After repeatedly meeting at various festivals last year, Ben McManus & Clara Delfina decided to join forces to sing American old-time and bluegrass music, blending banjo, fiddle and guitar with their beautiful harmonies.”


 

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Trans-Siberian March Band, Antony Elvin & His Men and Toby Hay, 24th June 2017

Arctic Circle presents:
Trans-Siberian March Band + Antony Elvin & His Men (with Nina Miranda) + Toby Hay
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 24th June 2017, 12.00pm
– free event (recommended donation: £5.00) – information

“Summer Solstice edition…

“It’s always a party when the Trans-Siberian March Band are around! A riotous jumble of cabaret, carnival and overwhelming joy, this 13-piece Balkan brass band have delighted audiences at Glastonbury, Woman and the Royal Albert Hall. The Times called them “hugely entertaining… perfect festival crowd-pleasures.” They’ll be playing their winning mix of traditional Turkish and gypsy tunes, Russian sing-alongs and swinging klezmer.


 
Antony Elvin (“a Noel Coward for the Noel Fielding generation!’, according to Julian Barratt of The Mighty Boosh!) is a singer/songwriter from London. His songs take the listener out on a ridiculous spree, in ‘Perfect London’ – a London of your dreams, gaslit yet modern,­ pastoral yet subliminally violent. In a strong English accent, he sings about the characters he meets and the romances of the day without the vulgar baggage of angst. Special guest for this concert is Nina Miranda of Smoke City, Shrift and Zeep – she of ‘Underwater Love’ fame.

Toby Hay makes instrumental music inspired by the landscape, people and history of Mid Wales. A guitarist and composer, ‘Folkroom‘ claim that “he’s one of the finest storytellers… and he’s never sung a word.”


 

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As ever, there are likely to be interstitial musical acts filling in the gaps between acts (via loops, atmospheres or turns on the venue’s grand piano or massive church organ), plus late in-the-day extra recruitments. These will be announced closer to the time.

Good to see Toby Hay on one of the bills – his debut EP featured in ‘Misfit City’ several years ago, and since then he’s become a mainstay of the Lamplight acoustic nights up at Regather in Sheffield…

April 2017 – upcoming London gigs – “wonk rock” with The Display Team + A Sweet Niche + Ham Legion (3rd); Patricia Hammond & Matt Redman’s Edwardian pop (3rd); SOIF Soiree with Society Of Imaginary Friends, David Skinner, The Support Stockings, Cian Binchy, Millie George, I Am Her, Martin Wakefield, Jed Demochowski, Anne Corrigan etc. (7th)

27 Mar

I was moved to jam these three early April gigs together for a preview. On the Wednesday, it’s up to you whether you go for the tangled electric loom of wonky pop/jazz/punk noise or for the hundred-year-old pop hits with the Keep Calm And Carry On teatowels. Either way, you still get to attend the latest mixed-music-and-poetry SOIF cabaret on the following Friday…

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The Display Team + A Sweet Niche + Ham Legion, 3rd April 2017Bad Hedge presents:
The Display Team + A Sweet Niche + Ham Legion
The Birds Nest, 32 Deptford Church Street, Deptford, London, SE8 4RZ, England
Monday 3rd April 2017, 7.00pm
information

“A repulsive onstage three-way shocker! For one night in April, three heavyweights of the widely ignored wonk rock scene will spill off the stage in one of London’s best (and cheapest) small venues. And all for free! The Display Team: nob-bothering high-octave brutalitarians; like a small orchestra with big balls. A Sweet Niche: skronky honkies that bring an ominous twistin’ y’all can’t be resistin’. Ham Legion: kaleidoscopic power-pop rompers with more dinner ideas than you’ve had hot.”

For a little more on these people from back in the ‘Misfit City’ archives, have a peek here, here and here. Meanwhile, here’s the obligatory fistful of tunes.




 
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Patricia Hammond & Matt Redman - 3rd April 2017Wiltons Music Hall presents:
Monday Night Music: Patricia Hammond with Matt Redman
The Mahogany Bar @ Wilton’s Music Hall, 1 Graces Alley, Whitechapel, London, E1 8JB, England
Monday 3rd April 2017, 8.00pm – free event
– information here and here

“An evening of rousing Edwardian pop! Patricia Hammond and Matt Redman, world-renowned specialists in authentic historical performance, will play an assortment of pop songs from the Edwardian era, including some of the first songs ever written about motorised transport: Willie Had A Motor-Boat, In My Merry Oldsmobile, My Rickenbacker Car, Wait Till You Get Them Up In The Air, Boys, and many, many more delights. If you’re very nice to them, Patricia and Matt also promise some rousing singalongs to gems such as If You Were The Only Girl In The World and, for the WW1 Centenary’s sake, Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit-Bag.

 
Matt will be performing on piano, guitar, banjo and accordion, and will treat people to instrumentals of some of the new dance crazes of the 1900s and 1910s, such as tango, chorinho, ragtime, Hawaiian and blues. Of course, this being Wilton’s, songs of the great music hall era will also feature. All together now!”

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SOIF Soiree, 7th April 2017

Society Of Imaginary Friends present:
Society of Imaginary Friends Soiree: “For Absent Friends” (featuring Society Of Imaginary Friends + David Skinner + The Support Stockings + Cian Binchy + Millie George + I Am Her + Martin Wakefield + Evie + Jed Demochowski + Anne Corrigan + Dj Onjdrew + others t.b.c.)
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Friday 7th April 2017, 8.00pm – free event
information

The latest in Society of Imaginary Friends’ ongoing series of grab-bag gigs, featuring a number of faces which ought to be familiar from recent performances:

“A sunny spring park comes to life crowded with absent friends, friends turned imaginary, walking with the sun, singing and humming, playing rounders, turning summersaults, laughing with the children,climbing trees, smiling into the breeze and as the sun sets we gather round a bandstand at the centre of a green. Vegan ma-nah is brought out by sensual peace-loving Daleks… a gorgeous offering of sound and light a celebration of friendship.

“Performing on 7th is the virtuosic guitarist and velvety voiced singer David Skinner; harmonious vocal stylings from our choir The Support Stockings; fresh from his sold-out national tour, Cian Binchy; the fabulous young poet and star of the Round House and Young Vic Millie George; urban punk from the mighty Julie Riley‘s I Am Her; Martin Wakefield and Evie with inspiring poetry, music and verse; Jed Demochowski (of the VIPs) and his new band; Anne Corrigan delighting us with her poems; DJ Onjdrew, and a couple of super amazing surprise star guests. Plus us, theSociety Of Imaginary Friends.

“Please come and bring a memory, a line or two about your absent friend to say on the night. Looking forward to seeing you there. Don’t forget it is free entry and there is amazing vegan food and award-winning beverages to purchase.”





 

March 2017 – upcoming London experimental music gigs – Pefkin, Bell Lungs, Russell Walker and David CW Briggs on the 12th; Yoni Silver, Eden Grey and |V|I|O|L|E|N|C|E| at openJack on the 15th; Magnus Loom, Alex Douglas, Zoey Gunshot and Flying Saucer on the 16th

5 Mar

Sundry experimental music shows in London during mid-March:

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Pefkin + Bell Lungs + Russell Walker + David CW Briggs, 12th March 2017Pefkin + Bell Lungs + Russell Walker + David CW Briggs
New River Studios, Ground Floor Unit E, 199 Eade Road, Manor House, London, N4 1DN, England
Sunday 12th March 2017, 7.00pm
information

Words from the organiser:

“Scotland comes to New River and it’s going to be a spooky psychedelic affair.

Pefkin is the alter ego of Gayle Brogan, one half of Glaswegian vintage synth duo Electroscope and ex-proprietor of the Boa Melody Bar mail order. She has been recording as Pefkin since 1999 and released albums on Morc, Wild Silence, Reverb Worship, Pseudoarcana etc. More recently she has been recording with the Kitchen Cynics‘ Alan Davidson, creating psych-folk hymnals inspired by a mutual love of folk songs and nature, and has been recording with United Bible Studies. On her own Gayle creates a dreamy rural psychedelia from looped vocals, guitar, analogue synth and violin. She is currently recording an album inspired by the recumbent stone circles of Aberdeenshire.


 
Bell Lungs (vocals/electric guitar/electric violin) is from Scotland and has previously performed in the USA, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK, in curious locations such as an abandoned grain silo, a hydro-electric power station inside a mountain, the top deck of a double-decker bus and amidst the eerie, moving sculptures of Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre. She will be playing an immersive continuously-morphing set that will carry you from the Western Isles of Scotland to the rainforest and outer space.


 
“Support from Russell Walker of Pheromoans fame and Bomber Jackets infamy. He has also written a book. The book is great, very funny. I saw Russell play at Tatty Seaside Towns‘ most recent event in the famed ‘Naughty Corner’. Me and Barney Wakefield were trying to have a serious conversation but it was IMPOSSIBLE because of this set. He was reading some very funny, misanthropic, storioes/poetry about some ‘people’ either real or unreal. Scathing and mundane in equal measure which is the sign of a good cook. Great with kids. (His son is the spitting image of my nephew… I didn’t want to mention it at the time, ‘cuz that’s probably a strange thing for stranger to bring up on first meeting).


 
David CW Briggs will open the proceedings! Dave used to play in Unlabel band Cove and was playing solo under the moniker Hills Have Riffs for a while. He drinks a lot of tea and is great with kids.”


 
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openJack, 12th March 2017

Ellis Gardiner presents:
openJack – Yoni Silver + Eden Grey + |V|I|O|L|E|N|C|E| + guests
New River Studios, Ground Floor Unit E, 199 Eade Road, Manor House, London, N4 1DN, England
Wednesday 15th March 2017, 7.30pm
information

Yoni Silver is a multi-instrumentalist (specialising in bass clarinet and electronics), composer, improvisor and performer. He plays in a number of projects, including the Hyperion Ensemble. This is Yoni’s first openJack appearance, but he’s back a few weeks later with his trio, Denis D’or.


 
Eden Grey‘s music is an experimental mix influenced by electro, dub, d’n’b, techno, drone, ambient and hip-hop. Her music took a major shift towards the collage-based methods of the historical avant-garde while earning her Masters’ degree in music technology and after she began building her modular synthesizer in 2013. Eden also hosts the CV FREQS meetups for the London Modular Synthesis Group.


 
|V|I|O|L|E|N|C|E| is a solo electronics project by Tim Cowlishaw, one of the people behind Walthamstow’s avant-music evening More News From Nowhere.”


 
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Magnus Loom, 16th March 2017Chlöe Herington presents:
Magnus Loom + Zoey Gunshot + Flying Saucer
The Harrison, 28 Harrison Street, Kings Cross, London, WC1H 8JF, England
Thursday 16th March 2017, 7.00pm
information

This is another of the leftfield gigs organised by reedswoman/noise-fiddler and curator Chlöe Herington (Chrome Hoof, Knifeworld, V A L V E, Half The Sky), and here’s what she has to say about it:

Magnus Loom wildly turns and tumbles through a cornucopia of brightly burning pitches and rhythms, howling and whispering, in his own world of avant-punk cabaret. According to his Facebook page, “Magnus Loom makes a noise, and lives in hope that one day others might enjoy it as much as he does.” It’s really good noise. I reckon you’ll enjoy his noise.



 
“The two support acts are both performing debut gigs. Zoey Gunshot is political noises and anti-folk; Flying Saucer is experimental noises, a bit Jonathan Richmond tinged with Bob Drake.“

 

November 2016 – upcoming London gigs – Society Of Imaginary Friends’ ‘Time Saturated Soiree’ with The Astronauts, Taktylos, Beth Jones, Marius French and Nighmar Ascousky (4th); Revere, Alasdair Maclean and Colm Mac Con Iomair play Daylight Music (5th)

30 Oct

Those frowning former commercial and light industrial blocks in Wood Green have been enjoying a change of function in recent years as the area gradually, awkwardly morphs into a London art hub (while rents and avaricious developments continue to push the city artists and shoestring events out of the near-east-and-centre). I’m guessing that this will only accelerate, with the artier spaces around the backstreets near the library and the old gasometers acquiring glossier licks of gentrification as the money follows. At the moment, it’s hovering in the grey area between pop-up and plush: for now, slightly outré things can still happen.

One such thing has been happening for a few years now, with the astonishingly assured art-pop quartet Society Of Imaginary Friends running musical soirees at the high-rep vegan eaterie Karamel Café (as they do in other venues dotted around London – Soho, Clerkenwell, Kingston – and occasionally in the Orkney Islands). It’s taken me a while to catch up with them.

Time Saturated Soif Soiree, 4th November 2016

Society Of Imaginary Friends presents:
‘Time Saturated Soiree’: The Astronauts + Taktylos + Society Of Imaginary Friends + Beth Jones + Marius French + Nighmar Ascousky + Onjdrew DJ set
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Friday 4th November 2016, 8.00pm – free entry – information

Frequently tinged with some degree of rebel rhetoric and counterculture spirit (albeit dappled, in turn, by outright theatricality), on this occasion the Soiree makes a tongue-in-cheek grab for the occult aspects of British daylight saving. “As the clocks go back, we celebrate together the extraordinary gift of an extra hour of life from the God Chronos. Of course this means that not only do we have an extra hour in bed on Sunday but an extra hour is also available to enjoy our Time Saturated Soiree on 4th November. We will feature artists abundant in time and time signatures of the non linear variety.”

Society Of Imaginary Friends are curating from somewhere in the middle of the bill. I’m surprised that I haven’t found out about them before, since they’re right up my alley – dramatic song stories and glam-chanson-prog-folk operas which can be as smooth as mountain lakes or tossed around like cartoon galleons (that is, when they’ve not turned inwards and intimate, for creepy journeys into the shadowy nooks of the house or the cupboard under the stairs).

Orkney-born singer Louise Kleboe, (who recently wowed an audience at Organ Reframed in a teamup with William D. Drake) serves as powerful female voice and figurehead. The music (drawing on Orcadian lays and Balkan jags as much as it does English art pop and psychedelic folk) is underpinned by a constantly flexible electro-acoustic palette of piano, accordion, guitar and violin; plus sundry keyboard samplers which cough up sleight-of-eardrum aural tricks and tinkles to take us deeper into the band’s conceptual toybox. Kate Bush would be an obvious comparison; so, too, would a braver Goldfrapp; you could also stir in the Gothic intimations of Danielle Dax (if not so much of the thorny racket) and add shades of the overt theatrical danger which Holly Penfield has brought to both her singer-songwriter work and her cabaret shows.

Below are two Society songs – the smoothly rhapsodic The Moors (something to draw in and caress the New Agers) and The Easy Way (to grab them by the lapels and flip them over for a shakedown). The fact that the latter can slip into a video cut from footage of Elem Klimov’s harrowing war film ‘Come and See’ – and thrive there – speaks volumes about its own strident power.



 
In line with the soiree theme, the Society will be presenting a miniature new temporal project of their own. “The briefest of rock operas – ‘On The Third Stroke’, based on the life and times of Ethel Jane Cain, the very first speaking clock, (‘glamorous and exact, the living embodiment of precision… she sat between the tick and the tock… swinging in the hammock strung between the Sun and the Moon…’, as ‘The Idler Magazine’ put it.” No preview samples are available, unfortunately, but here’s that original clock with that original voice…


 
Society guitarist Brian O’Lenehan puts in double duty on this concert, since he also plays in skeletal-spacey instrumental fusion band Taktylos. The Society hail them as “live from the event horizon”: a little more helpfully, the ‘Guardian’ describes them as “Philip Glass meets Soft Machine”.

It’s a fair description of a band in which a collection of London musicians – the others being journeying drummer Tom Cambata, wind-synther Rod Arran, German keyboard player Chris Bihlmaier and bass guitarist David Rees – seem to gingerly and painstakingly align their ingredients (squishy late-‘70s fusion tootles, pared-back guitar shapes, mathematical percussion arrangements) into place as if they were jellied blocks of unstable explosive, rather than chunks of musical conversation. I’m not sure whether the resulting minimalist leanings are the results of being tentative or of attempting to dab a tune into shape with the fewest and most economical strokes (like a Japanese ink drawing). Still, assuming that Taktylos don’t go roaring off down more standard bulked-up jazz-fusion lines in the future, they’ve got themselves a potentially interesting niche.



 
Topping the bill (I think) are the most recent iteration of The Astronauts – longstanding post-punk absurdists spun off from onetime new town Welwyn. Formed in 1981 (and, despite langours, never quite gone since then), they’ve sometimes had to singlehandedly hold up the town’s early ‘80s anarcho-punk reputation, standing defiant and crooked to the “affluent deadzone” qualities into which the place has sleepwalked. It’s kind of de rigeur to include ‘Rock & Reel’s description of front man/last man standing Mark Astronaut as “the post-punk Dylan of Welwyn Garden City” and add that certain people also risk a Prestwich verbal maiming by mentioning him in the same breath as Mark E. Smith.

He’s actually much more straightforward than either (perhaps “a kitchen-sink Robert Calvert” might be a better description). As for the band, while they never quite match the driving, morphing truculence of The Fall they’re accomplished post-punk chameleons – flicking between West Coast punks or hippies within the same few bars, suddenly huddling in dank subways with the young Paul Weller, or morphing into a studiously awkward Zombies as they back Mark’s singular satellite-town vision.



 
This particular evening may be bolstered with actor, autism ambassador and mordant performance poet Cian Binchy dropping by for a return appearance; meanwhile, Nighmar Ascousky (hyperactive polymath, Soiree evening regular, fantasy geek and friendly Laveyan Satanist) will be taking time out from his acting, modelling, painting, film-making and singing work in order to deliver some “shock and awe” poetry (and perhaps just take the opportunity to sit down for a while). Beyond that the evening starts to rampage further into the astrological and mystical, with returning “fabulously, beautiful, talented, rising star singer/songwriter Beth Jones representing the sun, and “supremely talented multi-instrumentalist Marius French covering the same task for the moon. There’s a chance of further off-the-list performers; and there’s a DJ set until the early morning.

Regarding Beth and Marius – they might be gigantic talents, or even catalysts for sympathetic magic; but I can’t find more information on either of them anywhere. Those glowing references could all be hype, or the Society could be lining up a genuinely impressive bill. The chances are that it’ll be the latter, since the roll-call of previous Soiree performers is a delightful array of present-and-correct, past-blasts and future shinings. Just to give a partial picture, past shows have included music contributions from William D. Drake (the endearing grand-and-gawky ex-Cardiac keyboard wizard); harpsinger Sheila Moyan; Virginia Plain (a.k.a Nick Watkinson, cross-dressing ex-frontman of late-’70s power-pop heroes The Jags); psychedelic keyboards warrior Kosmic Troubadour; Kirsten Morrison (rising folk-baroque queen and Lene Lovich ally); and woodwind player William Summers (who’s had Circulus, The Loki Broken Consort and Princes In The Tower in his bagful of bands). The same run of shows have had recitation, chats and rants from (among others) Camden rapper Lid Lid, poets Keleigh Wolf, Ernie Burns and Gabriel Moreno, and ‘New Internationalist’ artivist/activist/commentator Jamie Kelsey Fry.

Best to enjoy this kind of thing while it lasts. Who knows – it might not be long before occasions like this are pushed out by encroaching cash and a tidal wave of karaoke salsa; but even if that turns out to be so, I don’t think the Society will take it lying down. They’re irrepressible. We’d see them pop up somewhere else, soiree in tow; somewhere where they were least expected.

* * * * * * * *

Meanwhile, showing no signs of slowing down (and still in residence in long-gentrified central Islington), Daylight Music returns after its half-term break.

Daylight Music 237, 5th November 2016

Arctic Circle presents:
Daylight Music 237: Revere + Alasdair Maclean + Colm Mac Con Iomaire
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 5th November 2016, 12.00pm
– free event (suggested donation: £5.00) – information

Slightly tweaked press release:

“When it comes to influences, Revere has had a firmly open-door policy over their fifteen years of existence, incorporating chamber pop, dance music, post rock and progressive elements into their trademark wall of sound, garnering a great live reputation for their multi-layered wall of sound. After fifteen years, two albums, nine EPs and a clutch of singles (and with around fifty musicians having passed through the band), they’re amicably calling it quits, with the current and final six-piece choosing to play their last British show at Daylight Music.

(For fans of occasion, the actual last ever Revere show is a Dutch farewell at Vessel 11 in Rotterdam on 3rd December).



 
“In the middle of the bill is a set by Alasdair Maclean, singer, songwriter and guitarist for legendary band The Clientele, who formed a long time ago in the backwoods of suburban Hampshire (initially playing together as kids at school, later rehearsing in a thatched cottage remote from any kind of music scene but hypnotized by the magical strangeness of Galaxie 500 and Felt and the psych pop of Love and the Zombies). Alasdair still recalls a pub conversation where the band collectively voted that it was OK to be influenced by surrealist poetry but not OK to have any shouting or blues guitar solos. From that moment on, they put their stamp on a kind of eerie, distanced pure pop, stripped to its essentials and recorded quickly to four-track analogue tape.

Instantly identifiable, The Clientele sound like no one else, although they are cited as an influence by bands as diverse as Spoon, Panda Bear, The War on Drugs and the Fleet Foxes. It’s been said that the greatest bands always create their own individual sound; The Clientele have gone one further and created their own world.


 
“In a crowded field of outstanding Irish fiddle players and interpreters of traditional music Colm Mac Con Iomaire is unique. From school trad band Kila and street busking to wildly popular days playing fiddle with The Frames, his voice is unmistakably his own and his music bears distinctive creative hallmarks which have as much to do with his personality and character as with his impressive technical mastery, musical authority and exquisitely expressive playing. Almost twenty years ago Colm struggled to describe his early attempts at composition and made a distinction between
‘tunes’ and ‘music’. With his father’s people coming from the Irish-speaking Conamara Gaeltacht, Colm learned ‘tunes’ (the dance music which makes up much of the instrumental repertoire in Irish traditional music) and sean nós unaccompanied singing; on his mother’s side there was classical instrumental ‘music’ on the violin and piano. The creative tension between these two notions produced a player, composer and film score arranger who seems always to have been aware and inspired by the dualities in his musical and cultural world.


 
“During the late nineties Irish broadcaster TG4 offered Colm opportunities to write scores for film, allowing him to allowed him to progress and mature as an orchestrator of his own compositions. The compositions Colm made for these productions came from an interior place whose deep roots lay in traditional Irish music but also in an older way of life and thought, consciously mediated through his personal life lived out in the contemporary space. The title for Colm’s first solo album ‘The Hare’s Corner/Cúinne an Ghiorria’ signified not only an acknowledgement of the importance of that old culture but also an urgent plea for
‘the hare’s corner’ in contemporary culture… a still place where space and time are set aside for something beautiful for its own sake. The title of his second, ‘And Now the Weather’, refers to the introduction to the final item on radio and tv news bulletins, viewed as a means of keeping the distress of reality at bay: it is a title riven with irony.”

 

October 2016 – upcoming London gigs – Mr Bowler’s ‘Music to be Murdered By’ at Crazy Coqs (30th-31st)

27 Oct

Here’s something for a London Halloween. In all honesty, I’m not sure what it is yet. I’ll try to work it out as we go along.

Mr Bowler's 'Music to be Murdered by', 30th-31st October 2016Mr Bowler presents:
‘Music To Be Murdered By’
The Crazy Coqs @ Brasserie Zedel, 20 Sherwood Street, Soho, London, W1F 7ED, England
Sunday 30th & Monday 31st October 2016 (4.00pm & 7.00pm Sunday, 7.00pm Monday)
information

Multi-media music and dance team Mr Bowler are bringing a “sexy, slick, seductive and thought-provoking” show to the Zedel’s glamorous Art Deco basement just off Piccadilly Circus, promising their audience “a treat for both their ears and eyes” and “a thirst for comedic murderous thoughts”.

I do know that this is not the first time that they’ve done this and gotten away with it.

Alfred Hitchcock's 'Music To Be Murdered By'I know that it involves “lights out”. I know that it’s named after a macabre easy-listening album which Alfred Hitchcock put out towards the end of the ’50s, and that Mr Bowler somehow dug up the old Master of Suspense to narrate the show (more likely via the edit suite than the ouija board).

I know that ‘Music To Be Murdered By’ is intensely choreographed, working around a close-to-the-bone male/female dynamic and reversal of power; that the score is “classical” and the mood “seductive”. I also know that there are original songs written and performed by DriscAL, the dark-cabaret/slashing-rock crossover duo of James O’Driscoll and Alexia Leontiou-McAvoy (whose ‘People Conversation Occupation’ album sounds like a little like Shirley Bassey marshalling The Cramps into grand kitchen-sink drama, and who might be tugging the show towards its apparent flipside, ‘Music To Be Haunted By’).

Within Bowlerdom, Alexia doubles as Mrs Boa (or Mrs Bower), who might be the troupe’s dark mascot, their frontwoman or possibly their dominatrix. To be honest, this is where things get a little murky.

Other than what’s above, I know nothing.

Let’s face it, I don’t know what’s in there. I’m out of clues. We’re going down into that cellar blind.

Well, there’s one more thing. Here’s a lengthy snippet of the Bowlered hordes in action. That will give us some idea of their aesthetic… or when and how they’re going to strike.


 

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).

* * * * * * * *

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.




 

* * * * * * * *

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.


 
* * * * * * * *

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.

 

* * * * * * * *

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.


 

* * * * * * * *

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.

 

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