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July 2018 – two eclectic London music evenings – SOIF Soiree with Society Of Imaginary Friends, Jennifer Bliss Bennett, Dekay Ex, Stone Deep, Outre Dan Steele and William Summers (6th July); Rude Mechanicals with John Callaghan, Hypnotique and Rotten Bliss (13th July)

3 Jul

SOIF Soiree, 6th July 2018

The last Society Of Imaginary Friends Soiree for the summer is cartwheeling into view. I smashed two or three of their Beat-y burbles together to bring you this:

“Friday 6th July is our 21st Century Avant Garde Soiree at Karamel, N22. We have in store for you a magnificent exploration of 21st Century new and experimental music with incredible performers already lined up. The fabulous, supremely talented Jennifer Bliss Bennett will be performing master composer Martin Gaughan’s pieces for voice and bass viol: a must hear. There’ll be an appearance from the one-and-only Dekay Ex (queen of the underground urban music arena, virtuosic battle rapper superstar) with guest musician Gerard; and brand new dark intriguing soul music from Stone Deep.

“The multi-talented Darren and Isobel Hirst will be performing as the fascinating, spellbinding duo Outre Dan Steele, and the amazing William Summers (Circulus, Princes In The Tower, Mediaeaval Baebes and innumerable period/Baroque ensembles) will be performing 20th century recorder music. Plus us, the Society Of Imaginary Friends, and that’s just for starters. Delicious vegan food and unbelievably free entry.”

Society of Imaginary Friends presents:
21st Century Avant Garde Soiree: Society Of Imaginary Friends + Jennifer Bliss Bennett + Dekay Ex + Stone Deep + Outre Dan Steele + William Summers
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Friday 6th July 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

A few examples of the evening’s entertainment:




 
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There’s no August Soiree (since the Society will be either on holiday or concentrating on their appearances at the Green Gathering festival in Chepstow), but there should be more of these evenings in the coming autumn.

However, you can make up for their upcoming London summer absence with an evening of music and video hosted by Cos Chapman’s Rude Mechanicals, and taking place in a onetime Dalston dance school turned into arty pub and hangout space…

Rude Mechanicals + John Callaghan + Hypnotique + Rotten Bliss, 13th july 2018

“The art-rock inspired Rude Mechanicals have been compared to Nick Cave, The Tiger Lillies, early Roxy Music and Can and described as post-punk, swamp blues and dark cabaret – altogether creating a music that was best be described by Tom Robinson (on BBC6) as “wild, wicked weirdness… a little bit Flying Lizards, a little bit Native Hipsters and a great deal like nothing you’ve heard before…” The evening will feature the premiere of MHG Music Videos’s animated video for Rude Mechanical’s ‘Paperwork’.”

Meanwhile, here’s something a little older…


 
“Originally hailing from Birmingham, John Callaghan is an unusual songwriter and performer of thoughtful and spiky electronica. His self-directed video for ‘I’m Not Comfortable Inside My Mind’ aired on MTV. His live performances are energetic and imaginative, and range from one-man auto-karaoke shows to specially-written dancefloor sets. Recent well-received shows have included London’s Spitz, Ginglik and Electrowerks, Cambridge’s Portland Arms, Crystal Palace Bowl and last year’s jaunt around Germany, including Berlin’s Club 103 and Bar 25 and Hamburg’s Golden Pudel. He is 173cm tall, weights 73kg and has a blood pressure of 110/60Hg.”


 
Hypnotique is a thereministe, electronic musician and auteur based in London whose lyrical subjects range from the apocalypse, post-feminism, erotic narrative and allotments. She’s performed solo shows at Edinburgh Fringe, worked with Gong and The Heliocentrics, toured the Amazon and annoyed Simon Cowell. She’ll be performing her live sound design for Georges Méliès 1902 film ‘Voyage de la Luna’ (‘Trip to the Moon’)…”
…which she’s previously and recently also done at a Colliding Lines film evening: find out more about that here.


 
“Described last year as “a thing of disquieting dark beauty rolling in through a ghostly fog on timeless ripples whose ebbing wash peels back the years to reveal a vintage crafted in archaic folk tongues” by Mark Barton of ‘The Sunday Experience‘ (and, by ‘The Wire’ as a writer of “coarse and beautifully heavy songs (betraying) hallmarks of folk, metal and classical without subscribing to any particular tribe”), Rotten Bliss is the violent, warm and weird visions of London based avant-garde electric cellist and vocalist Jasmine Pender. Equally inspired by the wild physicality of Jacqueline du Pre and the shrieking glory of a cello played through FX pedals, Rotten Bliss packs diverse influences into an elemental voyage of outer-limits FX-laden drones, weird folk and sound art, raging from tender a capella lyrical fantasies through to ecstatic nihilism.

“Jasmine performs regularly around London, also playing in 11th Hour Adventists (with Jowe Head, ex-Swell Maps) and False Echo (with Tim Bowen, ex-Chrome Hoof) and has toured England, France, Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic. Her debut album, ‘The Nightwatchman Sings’, was released in October 2017 on the Reverb Worship label.”

 
Also on hand for the inbetween bits are DJs Enri, Blue and MJ Ultra, and Rude Mechanicals are bribing any advance tickets buyers with the promise of a “free unique, special edition CD and badge”.

Rude Mechanicals present:
‘Paperwork!’ – featuring Rude Mechanicals + John Callaghan + Hypnotique + Rotten Bliss + DJ Enri + DJs Blue & MJ Ultra
Farr’s School Of Dancing, 17-19 Dalston Lane, Dalston, London, E8 3DF, England
Friday 13th July 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

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

1 Jul

Ana Silvera, 4th July 2018

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

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

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


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

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

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


 
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Holly Penfield, 9th July 2018

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

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


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


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

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


 

May 2018 – a London alt/art/psych/theatrical/poetic cabaret at Slapper’s Club, with Katharine Blake, Clifford Slapper, Kavus Torabi, Charlie Cawood, The Cesarians duo, My Name Is Swan, Danielle Imara, Jo Below, possibly Suri Sumatra and definitely Piers Atkinson’s hat parade (24th May)

17 May

Slapper's Club, 24th May 2018

Regardless of gentrification, Stoke Newington remains one of the best London places to look if you’re up for hippy-punk cabaret weirdness. This is not just due to the regular string of evening goings-on and shenanigans at The Others, but also because of the recent revival of Slapper’s Club at the Mascara Bar heading up to Stamford Hill. Curated as a joint effort between multi-skilled classical rebel-turned-sultry/scholarly Mediaeval Baebe/Miranda Sex Garden singer Katherine Blake and glam-socialist piano player/Speaker’s Corner veteran Clifford Slapper (possibly best known, despite a whirl of activity, for his work on Bowie songs), it’s a loose-bag celebration of artistic diversity… and it’s free.

For this end-of-May show, Clifford himself will be performing in two separate, sung duo sets performing “the classics”: one with Katherine, and the other with singing theatre/art/novel-writing polymath Danielle Imara (the former Nina Silvert). No-one involved has said what “the classics” are – could be anything from Purcell to Prince, Bolan to music-hall, Bowie to Wiemar, Flesh For Lulu. Could be some of Danielle and Katherine’s own songs. Here are three possibilities…



 
Mediaeval Baebes multi-instrumentalist Charlie Cawood will take a little time out from being London’s beloved jack-of-all-fingerboards, and will celebrate the success of his recent debut album ‘The Divine Element’ (a glorious fresh-fusion magic-carpet ride across half a globe’s worth of music) by pulling together various other heavy playing friends for a set of Indian sitar music. Not sure whether he’s playing the classic ragas, but in case he isn’t, here’s something suitably sitar-ful from ‘The Divine Element’. Alongside is something from Charlie’s Knifeworld bandmate Kavus Torabi, who’s adding this particular Mascara Bar evening as another stop on the meandering solo tour supporting his own recent solo debut (April’s dusky psych-folk EP ‘Solar Divination’, which perhaps drawing some influence from Kavus’ other lives in Gong, Cardiacs, Guapo and others, but not nearly as much as it draws from ominous imagined dusk rituals and mysterious old ghosts on the darker hippy trails).



 
Also on hand are a stripped-down acoustic version of the ferally witty Cesarians – just singer Charlie Finke and pianist Justine Armatage, treating us to a more intimate take on the band’s ambitious, expansive knife-dancing pop. Rounding off the main musical acts, Jo Below (probably accompanied by Claudette the concertina) will sit down, tell you stories, recite her poems and sing songs, and along the way “regale you sweetly with surprising lewdness”. There’ll probably be “tales of captains and nomads and loves of her not-so-sure life” and perhaps some traditional stuff, as well as accounts of winking etiquette for the Tube.

 
Hopefully able to make it on the night will be dancer and all-round burlesque-rian Suri Sumatra; while definitely on the performance roll is celebrity milliner Piers Atkinson with his alternative catwalk routine (“Salon Show: A Masc-Querade where our in-house superstars will treat you to an extraordinary hat parade accompanied by a live musical atrocity.”).



 
Capping the night’s gambit is poet Jan Noble performing ‘My Name Is Swan’, a poetic monologue that’s already done the rounds of various Swan pubs in London and elsewhere. “Drawing on Jan’s fifteen years experience teaching poetry and creative writing in prisons and on psychiatric wards, ‘My Name Is Swan’ describes a twenty-four hour journey across London. An odyssey of loss and belonging, lies and loyalty, ownership and neglect, Brexit and heartbreak, drugs and the suburbs, boredom, football violence, vandalism, happiness, isolation, addiction, rivers, shopping trolleys, love, hope and the metropolitan malaise… addressing the growing social and economic disparity of the modern city, it is most of all a beautifully evocative portrait of London, the struggles it presents and the solutions it offers.” The work’s also been filmed by Adam Carr with additional musical contributions by Samuel Kilcoyne and Takatsuna Mukai: I’m not sure whether we’re just getting Jan on his own, or whether we get bits of the film or music too, or whether we get all three.

 
Katharine Blake and Clifford Slapper present:
‘Slappers’ Club’
Mascara Bar, 72 Stamford Hill, Stoke Newington, London, N16 6XS, England
Thursday 24th May 2018, 7.30pm
– free entry – information here
 

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

29 Jan

SOIF Soiree, 2nd February 2018

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

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

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

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

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




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


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

Peter Blegvad Trio, 9th February 2018

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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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

* * * * * * * *

Evil Blizzard, 10th February 2018

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

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

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



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


 

January/February 2018 – The Ecstatic Music Festival in New York (part 1) with Kronos Quartet, Xenia Rubinos, Face The Music, Adam Schatz’s Civil Engineering and Bang On A Can (27th January, 5th February, 15th February)

15 Jan

Looking over to America, the Saturday after next sees the first date in New York City’s snappy, broad-based Ecstatic Music Festival.

Ecstatic Music Festival, 2018

“Starting on 27th January and running through 26th April 2018, the festival, hailed as “the alt-classical world’s main showcase” (‘The New York Times’), will feature collaborations from more than seventy-five composers and performers from different musical genres across the sonic spectrum, including Kronos Quartet, the Bang On A Can All-Stars, Margaret Leng Tan, Glasser, Xenia Rubinos, Mantra Percussion, Mahogany L. Browne, Carla Kihlstedt, Patrick Zimmerli, Ethan Iverson, Buke & Gase’s Arone Dyer, and many more. A collaboration between New Amsterdam Presents and Kaufman Music Center, the festival has nine collaborative one-night-only performances featuring world premieres, new arrangements and the exclusive opportunity to hear artists discuss their work.”

Here are some details for the first three shows (taken from the programme and tweaked/expanded where necessary), spread out from the end of January to the middle of February:

Xenia Rubinos & Adam Schatz's Civil Engineering, 27th January 2018

Xenia Rubinos can make social consciousness sensual,” says the ‘New York Times’. Her catchy yet exuberantly visceral songs meld weighty social issues with intimately personal ones and draw from a broad palette of influences ranging from Caribbean and jazz to indie rock, hip-hop and punk.


 
“Xenia will team up with Adam Schatz’s Civil Engineering, a high-energy, ten-member multi-dimensional big band led by the protean multi-instrumentalist Adam Schatz, “New York’s indie-rock Zelig” (‘New York Observer’) and Landlady frontman, to perform new arrangements of her songs, his songs, and composers they love, and to premiere new works written for the Ecstatic Music Festival.


 
“Regarding the project, Adam claims to be “chasing the spirits of Duke Ellington and Gene Wilder. I am trying to operate at a large scale that hits at the heart and can go anywhere at any time. Songs, improvisations, and adventures with a big band of impossibly talented people. This is Civil Engineering.” The band has included Alec Spiegelman, Ross Edwards, Brandon Seabrook (Seabrook Power Plant, Needle Driver), Ross Gallagher, Noah Garabedian (Big Butter And The Egg Men, Ravi Coltrane), Stephanie Richards, Curtis Hasselbring (The New Mellow Edwards, Decoupage, The Curha-chestra) and Patrick Breiner.

Kronos Quartet & Face The Music, 5th February 2018

“The adventurous, Grammy-winning Kronos Quartet – one of the most celebrated and influential ensembles of our time – joins NYC’s acclaimed youth new music ensemble (and Kaufman in-house orchestra) Face the Music to perform new works written for Kronos’ “Fifty for the Future”, a commissioning, education and legacy project showcasing contemporary approaches to the string quartet that features new works by some of today’s foremost composers.



 
The two ensembles will perform separately and together: there’s no details on the Kronos setlist yet, or on the combined programme, but Face the Music will be performing Yotam Haber‘s ‘From The Book’ and Kala Ramnath‘s ‘Amrit’.

Bang On A Can People's Commissioning Fund Concert, 15th February 2018

“Co-founded in 1987 by composers Michael Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe, Bang On A Can has grown from a one-off concert band to a ceaselessly active, multi-bodied and internationally famous New Music ensemble, building a world in which powerful new musical ideas flow freely across all genres and borders. Set up in 1997, long before crowd-funding became the norm through Kickstarter and the like, Bang On A Can’s People’s Commissioning Fund has pooled contributions of all sizes from hundreds of friends and fans. Since its inception as a radical partnership between artists and audiences to commission works from adventurous composers, it has commissioned over fifty works of music for New York’s electric Bang on a Can All-Stars.

“This concert, compiling new commissions for 2018 and a few old favourites, is a New Sounds Live co-presentation: it will be hosted by WNYC’s John Schaefer and streamed live. There will be world premieres of pieces by George Lewis and Angélica Negrón, plus a new look at “historic” PCF-commissioned pieces by Pamela Z, Annea Lockwood, Lukas Ligeti and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore.”


 
All concerts are performed at Merkin Concert Hall @ Kaufman Music Center, 129 W 67th Street, Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York, NY 10023, USA. Dates and times below:

  • Xenia Rubinos & Adam Schatz’s Civil Engineering – Saturday 27th January 2018, 7:30pm – information here and here
  • Kronos Quartet & Face The Music – Monday 5th February 2018, 7:30pm – information here and here
  • Bang on a Can People’s Commissioning Fund Concert – Thursday 15th February 2018, 7:30pmhere and here

For those who might not have already followed up on the remaining six dates between March and April, I’ll stick up reminders closer to the time…
 

January 2018 – assorted English and Scottish gigs – piano, soul, art pop and verbiage with Society of Friends, Blert Ademi, Stone Deep and a host of poets at the SOIF Soiree (London, 5th); cutting an altfolkrock swathe with a Trembling-Bells-flavoured show by Orion’s Belt, Tom Slatter and Marcus Doo (Glasgow, 6th); experimental pop with Snails, Edward Penfold and Eugene Capper/Rhodri Brooks (Bristol, 13th)

1 Jan

Starting off the New Year, there’s a diverse brace of upcoming shows dotted around the country… In London, there’s the Society Of Imaginary Friends’ monthly musicians’n’poets soiree (this month, one that’s particularly heavy on the poets). In Glasgow, there’s a “feast of psych and folk wonderment” linking the folkworlds around Trembling Bells and Alasdair Robert with arch proggy steampunk songwriting. Down in Bristol, there’s “an evening of pop pleasures and wonky wonders.” Read on…

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Society of Imaginary Friends Soiree, 5th January 2018

Society of Imaginary Friends presents:
“For Those in Peril on the Sea” Soiree: Society of Imaginary Friends + Blert Ademi + Debra Watson + Stone Deep + Amy Neilson Smith + Ernie Burns + DJ Miracle Rhythm
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Friday 5th January 2018, 7.30pm
– free event – information here and here

From the Society:

“A still boat in a raging storm, our January Soiree – the month of cataclysmic cyclones battering our little island, foam fills the air, cool seagulls ride the tempest and the Society Of Imaginary Friends gather in their cabin around a crackling fire and tell stories of things past and things to come.

“We are joined by the fabulous young pianist Blert Ademi; brilliant, hard hitting poetess Debra Watson; new intriguing soul music from Stone Deep; charismatic performer, Shakespearian beauty and wonderful poetess Amy Neilson Smith; lusty, revealing super-wordsmith Ernie Burns; on the wheels of steel, the vinyl singles DJ extraordinaire DJ Miracle Rhythm; and the Society Of Imaginary Friends taking you back to a beautiful solstice evening in the Glastonbury Green Field. (More amazing performers to be announced – watch this space!) Cordon bleu vegan delights available to purchase from top chefs Kathy and Roger. Free entry. Dinner from 6pm, live performances start at 8pm.”

I couldn’t find anything on – or by – Stone Deep; but here’s a look at the rest of the lineup so far, beginning with an old SOIF track…






 
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A day later, there’s the Scottish event: a delightful, consensus-bucking meld of the credible, the incredible and the extramural.

Orions Belt + Tom Slatter + Marcus Doo, 6th January 2018

Orion’s Belt + Tom Slatter + Marcus Doo
Nice’n’Sleazy, 421 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, G2 3LG, Scotland
Saturday 6th January 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Headliners Orion’s Belt are a “seven-piece behemoth” of latterday Glasgow-via-Canterbury psychedelic folk, sometimes compared to “Kevin Ayers & The Whole World with Judy Collins handling the vocals”. They’re led by singer Lavinia Blackwall, best known as the voice of Trembling Bells but a longstanding mainstay of Glaswegian early music and avant-folk. Prior to their work as Trembling Bells, she and Alex Neilson collaborated as free-improv folkers Directing Hand: outside of the Bells they still sing together (alongside Harry Campbell and Katy Cooper of Muldoon’s Picnic) as four-part a capella voice quartet Crying Lion, who blend madrigal, folk, Gregorian and Sacred Harp elements into original songs.

In comparison, Orion’s Belt sounds like one of Lavinia’s more easy-going projects but ought to be magical nonetheless. Also on board in the band, picked from Glasgow’s gutsier psych, prog and folk underground, are members of “ongoing sloth-themed rock opera” collective Sloth Metropolis, prog-folkers Big Hogg, and “neo-psychedelic ninjas” Helicon (plus perhaps a few more people from Trembling Bells). Sorry – it still seems to be too new to have generated any recordings or Youtubings yet, but as a compensation here’s Lavinia’s five-year-old version of Richard Farina’s ‘The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood’ performed with Maddy Prior, Thea Gilmore and the late Dave Swarbrick.


 
Originally with mid-noughties post-rockers Ancient Monsters, Highland-born singer-songwriter Marcus Doo has since made the transition to modern-day folk; initially with his own Spanish-based Secret Family, who explored the genre via their “Magpie Returned the Ring” album and scores for a Spanish Royal Theatre version of Ted Hughes’ ‘Gaudete’ and for Chema Rodríguez’s ‘Anochece en la India’. He’s been described by author Graeme Macrae Burnet as “a songwriter with a rare mastery of both melody and lyrics… his songs are satisfying as a rounded pebble in your hand, and he performs them with such passion and intensity that I would defy anyone not to be moved.” Since his 2015 return to Glasgow, Marcus has been working with sympathetic figures including Alasdair Roberts (with whom he’s recently toured), Alex Neilson and Mike Hastings of Trembling Bells, and Tom Davis of Big Hogg.

All of the latter appear on Marcus’ debut solo effort ‘Kid Wonder’, a loosely conceptual folk album about “an older man looking back at his life, towards death and in search of any Golden Apple (an old Norse emblem of eternal youth) of memory that may help him accept what has gone and what is about to come. Through various adventures to an ever-clearer destination he is emboldened by memories of places and people past, and gives thanks to them.” Other contributors to the record include Trembling Bells’ Valinia Black, various other members of the Doo family (including Marcus’ recently deceased grandfather), France-based flamenco-ist Genaro Alonso and Clova fiddler Aoife McGarrigle.

To have a listen to ‘Kid Wonder’ you’ll need to visit Marcus’ own music page, but here’s another substitute in the shape of an old Secret Family track.


 
In the middle of the bill is sardonic London bard-of-the-fantastical Tom Slatter, whose reliably arch and intricate songbook of weird-fiction songstories (steampunk murders, tentacled monstrosities running amok) has built up across a string of theatrical albums and EPs since the early noughties. Hailed for “epic tales of darkness and light (which) fuse the bile of Roy Harper with humour and a sharp musical mind”, he’s previously delivered them live via a single strummed acoustic guitar, but is now generally accompanied by electric guitarist Gareth Cole. Here’s the video for a particular bit of 2015 Slatter tentaculation:


 
In case you think that Tom sounds like an odd, forced fit in the midst of this sincere Scottish folk stew – and it’s fair to admit that a man who calls his own concert album ‘Live, Discomfiting and Overly Whimsical’ might be bringing the hurt down on himself – it’s worth remembering that (in between the Lovecraft/Sterling/GameCon rampages) his catalogue features scattered, glowing moments of unguarded psychedelic beauty such as the ‘Earthbound’ single. On top of that, Tom’s most recent solo album – last year’s ‘Happy People‘ – took an unexpected sideswerve away from the monster galleries, the top hats and the cog-driven toy theatres into a much more nuanced consideration of the human condition. Tom probably wouldn’t thank me for pointing this out, mind; and if you’re solidly unconvinced, come along and heckle him anyway. By many accounts, he loves a good heckle, especially if topped off by a dose of cunning wordplay.

* * * * * * * *

Snails + Edward Penfold + Eugene Capper & Rhodri Brooks, 13th January 2018

Pop Or Not Promotions and Undergrowth present:
Pop/Not: Snails, Edward Penfold, Eugene Capper & Rhodri Brooks
Cube Microplex, Dove Street South (off top-left of King Square), Kingsdown, Bristol, BS2 8JD, England
Saturday 13th January 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

In the Cube Microplex (the squirreled-away Bristol theatre-turned-cinema/venue which recently hosted a rollicking showing of Cardiacs’ ‘Mare’s Nest’ concert film plus The Scaramanga Six), there are some more workings along the pop fringe. Over to the promoters…

“Led by songwriter Dan Weltman and described as “eerie, beautiful, modestly majestic” by Stephen McRobbie of The Pastels, five-piece experimental pop band Snails generate moments of suburban guitar pop reverie for lonely people walking to the shops. Their sound bears the influence of ’60s folk and psychedelia with a peppering of ’90s pop. Mavericks such as Syd Barrett and Nico mingle with the likes of the Gorky’s or even Belle and Sebastian; though, having no desire to recreate the past, Snails sensitively combine a passion for classic sounds with inventive songwritting to create their own heartfelt pop music. For this unique Bristol show they will be playing brand new material from their upcoming second LP.


 
Edward Penfold’s music is a blend of the old and the new, nostalgic but not dated. More than anything it sounds like now. It’s music from the heart – a hazy collection of sounds and moods, sometimes upbeat, sometimes down, but always genuine and always captivating. His lyricism reflects the eloquence and observation of a very English sort of poetry, seeing the depth in the shallows of life, the profundity in the mundane; all accepted with a matter-of-factness that is reflected in the driving impetus in every song, whether slow or fast or groovy. His new album ‘Denny Island Drive’ came out in late November 2017.


 
“After two years of ongoing collaboration and development, Cardiff twosome Eugene Capper and Rhodri Brooks have just released their beautiful debut LP ‘Pontvane’. Individually, both Capper and Brooks have developed back catalogues of diverse musicality and influence, incorporating elements of surf, lo-fi, Americana and psych. Their first release as a duo further emphasises this eclecticism, effortlessly stitching together disparate sonic fragments into a cohesive, compelling whole. Take a listen…”

 

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