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

30 Jul

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

Aşıq Nargile

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

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


 
Tour dates are as follows:

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

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

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


 

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

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




 

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




 
* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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



 

April 2016 – upcoming gigs – street-level shamanism and more at the Gnod weekender in London, April 9th & 10th

7 Apr

In some respects Gnod – who are curating, and playing at, an extended gig in London this weekend – are a dubby Salfordian reflection of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. They share certain working methods – a collective, leaderless initiative springing from communal warehouse living; a passionate ethos of anti-establishment, anti-authoritarian feeling expressed in vast, cavernous and primarily instrumental musicscapes; an atmosphere sourced from circulating cultural-economic ghosts of deprivation and stagnation.

As regards the music itself, the parallels shift a little. Though both bands use drones and scattered, marginal snippets of speech, Gnod’s approach is a good deal broader and looser than Godspeed’s blend of classical/minimal string austerity and wind-tunnel punk rage, seeding itself from a variety of persistently underground forms. In the stew are industrial dance music, noise rock and anarchic dub; mystical hippy staples of overtone chanting and psychedelic ritual music (stripped of their frivolous navel-gazing associations and brought back to their mind-opening sources); free jazz; and a swathe of aural art-punk collagery (the latter of which, in Gnod form, recalls apocalyptic Godspeedian end-of-days graffiti, an approving response to Linder Sterling’s sharp visual comments on consumerism, and diary notes from besieged squats and hermit bedsits).

Other information is there if you choose to dig it up. We know that Gnod are from the other Islington – that liminal corner of Salford in the elbow of the River Irwell between the rails, the university and the skeletons of light industry, where the Islington Mill Arts Centre (in which the band live and work) has flourished since the mid-‘90s. We know that multi-instrumentalists and producer-theorists Chris Haslam and Paddy Shine have been in the band from the start: we know that the other two current members happen to be Marlene Ribeiro and Alex Macarte. We know that what seems to be dozens of others (but might be the same six people in a constant shuffle of personae) phase in and out of the band according to need, whim and inspiration; and that these include Manchester improv saxophonist David McLean, journeyman keyboard player John Paul Moran and drummer Chris Morley (once of Welsh experimental rockers Klaus Kinski, now propelling no-wave’d punk-funkers target=”_blank”>Queer’d Science).

We also know that the hybrid steam of subcultural influences and spirit of resistance that boils off from all of these ingredients is winning Gnod awestruck acclaim. ‘The Quietus’ (increasingly the British tastemaker as regards bands negotiating that slippery margin between absolute chthonic obscurity and cultural penetration) has not only sung their praises but been seduced into actually recording with them; while digging into Gnod’s web of ongoing connections and activities shakes up all kinds of other possibilities. The Gnod network of fellowship stretches across Europe and encompasses ever-roving Can singer Damo Suzuki, billowing gonzoid sample-psych from the late ‘80s (revived arsequake veterans Terminal Cheesecake sport former Gnoddist Neil Francis as their current frontman), classic British post-punk (via The Monochrome Set and The Blue Orchids), Louise Woodcock’s multi-media feminist art and a Catalonian psychedelic scene which gives a new meaning to Spanish castle magic (a few years ago, Gnod teamed up with Barcelona’s Black Bombaim as “Black Gnod”).

Having been casting out recordings since 2009, Gnod came up to speed with the beefy-but-spectral ecclesiastic dubgrind of 2011’s ‘INGNODWETRUST’ (following up with 2012’s ‘Science & Industry’, a sort of post-industrial ‘Sketches of Spain’ for trumpet, drones, ironscrape guitar haze and indistinct female declamations). They’re currently best known for 2014’s mammoth 110-minute ‘Infinity Machines’, in which their instincts for mood and social challenge came into focus. For that album, Gnod returned to (scorched) earth and conjured up a classic post-war Mancunian landscape of bones, threat and concrete; marrying a bleak Joy Division grind and deadzone chimes with knell-beating Rhodes piano, distorted boomings like rusting gasholders being beaten into dub drums, and aghast chemtrails of free sax which sounded like black-sailed galleons creeping up the Ship Canal and advancing into the Irwell. Amidst the grindings and slithering drones and the pollutant-smeared sleet, vocal samples of resistance and disquiet gave shape to a dawning and outspoken atmosphere of scepticism; in Breaking The Hex, they finally unleashed an eleventh-hour blast of dub/punk/sax/noise rebellion, while the title track was a harmonium keen over dark sonic bubbles.

While it didn’t wear its manifesto in the shape of a set of placardable lyrics, ‘Infinity Machines’ was a work of Salford shamanism, spitting the city’s ongoing gentrification back into its own face. Since then, Gnod have refused to simply rework it – instead they’ve allowed the feelings that inspired it to lead them naturally into new forms. Last year’s ‘Mirror’ album was written on tour in a slew of traveller’s energy and impacted by destructive mental turbulence within the Gnod circle: inspired in part by rage at government austerity programs which apparently declared war on the poor) propelled the band away from grand studioscapes and into a raw, live feel. It’s more personalised, its anger and alienation borne on pendulous and discombobulated noise-punk anti-grooves. Hands slam onto instruments and slip beats; the music flares into outright rage rather than stern painterly stews. Amidst the overtone vocals and chants, there’s persistent raw yelling; while the soundscapes have shifted towards slowed sirens, and a dragging, coshing pace: a clear early Swans influence.

Baba Yaga’s Hut presents:
Gnod Weekender, part 1: Gnod + Blood Sport
The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, England
Saturday 9th April 2016, 8.00pm
more informationtickets
Gnod Weekender part 2: Locean + Water + Futuro de Hierro + H.U.M + Dwellings + Negra Branca + Arkh Wagner + Ayn Sof
The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, England
Sunday 10th April 2016, 3.00pm to 11.00pm
more informationtickets

Gnod Weekender, 9th-10th April 2016Much of all of the above is going to come together over the course of this weekend, in which Gnod and a host of like-minded friends bring their collective approach to the current homestead of quirky London rock.

Saturday sees a full Gnod performance, supported by Sheffield trio Blood Sport, whose spindly and aggressive style is a ghostly, glassy-toned, black-sun approximation of Afrobeat and soukous. As for what Gnod themselves might be doing, the grind and gnarl of ‘Mirror’ might be their current output but they have a history of changing state and presenting an expectant audience with something unexpected: so be prepared for anything which reflects their history and their potentials (up to and including party blowers, possibly).

Sunday’s afternoon-to-late-night show features Gnod side projects and assorted friends in an eight-hour orgy. Some feature current Gnod members. Paddy Shine’s immersive “tantric vocal loop” project Ayn Sof will be opening the show; Dwellings is founder and bass player Chris Haslam doing hard-beat industrial electronica – dull-thud compulsive flesh beats, like the woody rattle of an early S&M loom, played in tandem with dank gothic synth drones. Negra Branca is a Marlene Ribeiro project, expanding on the “melodic and tonal dreamscapes” which she plays as part of the main band, full of squashy analogue synth shapes and temple-goddess vocals.



In Arkh Wagner, Alex Macarte (one of the more directly mystical Gnod members, if his online talk is anything to go by) teams up with Mark Wagner, a London-based multi-disciplinary artist and cybernetic mysticist, whose working practices are steeped in “cymagick” (a visualization of sound which takes in invisible and occult connections and “the vibratory nature of all things”). Their track Turn Off Your Mind (a narrative backed by a deepening pulse-chime in a confusion of noise surf) is a meditation on staring into the void, and on going too far out.


 

Mark Wagner’s also taking the stage as one-third of H.U.M. (or “Hypnotic Ultrasonic Magick”), a merging with two similarly shamanic noisemakers from Bristol’s ZamZam Records (these being the enigmatic surnameless H, or “Heloise”, who slipped into Bristol six years ago from a French fine arts background and has since been bewitching audiences with gigs that fall somewhere between installation and ritual and take place in caves, swimming pools and sundry found space, and fellow émigré and ambient droner Uiutna, originally from Switzerland but making her own way in the Bristolian avant-garde). H and Uiutna relocated to France recently but return to England for this event. H.U.M. present themselves as a kind of psychic cross-cultural art coven, citing “alchemical practice, incantation, chanting, drones, ritual drumming, French variété” as both inspiration and activity… although “French variété” is also on the list, so either a showbiz tinge or a sliver of hidden humour has been worked deep into the atmospheres. Here’s a clip of them in action:


 

Over in Barcelona, multi-instrumentalist, producer and happeneer Víctor Hurtado is the core of a “magic-inspired” scene of ritual psychedelic music. First coming to notice as the man behind acid-assemblage unit Qa’a (a richly detailed stew of lysergic rock and Nurse With Wound noise-and-texture garnishing), he’d soon diversify into a greater spontaneity with Huan (a project which he describes as “animalistic pulsations… almost like a living organism, that is at times sick, dying or excited”). Having collaborated with Jochen Arbeit, Steven Stapleton and more recently with Chris Haslam in the “monolithic, rhythmic, repetitive” Ordre Etern, Victor is bringing his Futuro de Hierro project to London for the Gnod Weekender. His latest musical pathway, it’s an outgrowth of his interest in more extreme and violent forms of electronic dance (such as speedcore and gabba) fused with techno, music concrete and a heightened psychedelic sensibility, featuring “disjointed rhythms” and “destroyed sounds, sonic detritus and live sound manipulation.”


All-female “art-carnage” troupe Water are another part of the Venn diagram which Gnod inhabit. Specifically, they represent the circles which intersect Manchester’s visual arts and multimedia, and the Devi Collective which coalesced around the Mill to commemorate and interpret last year’s William Burroughs centenary. Citing Throbbing Gristle, Wu-Tang Clan’s Rza and “well-witch horror scores” as creative spurs, they’re currently a five piece of multi-media “queen bee” Louise Woodcock, spoken-word poet/noise-guitarist Laura Bolger, visual artists Amy Horgan and Rachel Goodyear, and Emma Thompson (usually encountered as a DIY/punk/experimental gig promoter).

Soundcloud clips reveal something sounding like post-industrial Maenads: eerie threadlike female choruses and Laura’s dub-echo declamations seeping through a freeform background of womb-bass, malfunctioning engine drones, clanks and whistles, piston hisses, machine scrapes and tekiah blasts. The involvement of at least three women from a visual arts background – plus some striking photos – suggests that there’s a spectacle involved. Evidence of lengthy Water performances inspired by Aleister Crowley, by séances and by water rituals suggest that they’re fascinated with rite, summoning and form in a way which spans primordiality, Greek legend and map-fixes on esoterica ranging from Renaissance art to the present day. All of it slips through the fingers if seized on second-hand: it seems as if Water are an experience best soaked up live.


 

Laura Bolger reappears to add smeared, dreamlike vocals and narrations to the final act on the bill, Locean – another full-on Irwellian music collective in the Gnod and Devi orbit (sharing both Louse Woodcock and sometime Gnod tapesman/ranter Neil Francis). Offering another queasy grinding ride of driving punk-psych, noise improvisations and punk wail, their mantric sound binds The Velvet Underground, Mother Gong, Bauhaus and an abrasive Fall-esque groove in with bass-echo and wheel-rim guitar. As with Gnod and Water, they’re technically minimal but build up to a grand scale with their scratching, multiplying sonic detail: Laura’s words and musings, floating on the sound-wash like scraps of diaries and manifestos, ranges from odd and oblique polemics to numinous childhood memories.




 

As I post this, tickets are still available. If you’re spending most of your time trapped in London’s gravity well, this might be your best chance for a while to get something of that Islington Mill atmosphere and inspiration, and to beat along with Gnod’s dark-toned, troubled yet committed heart.
 

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