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July 2021 – single & track reviews – Yes’ ‘The Ice Bridge’; Brachmond’s ‘Teufelsdanz’; Brainsqueezed’s ‘My Fears in the Night’

23 Jul

There was a time when Yes defined their own musical shapes, and did it incredibly well. You can quibble about their otherworldly detachment and high pitching, their grandiose poly-stylistic gestures, their lasers, harps and ’70s frocks; but behind all of that detailed prime-prog fantasia was a furious collective musicality in which virtuosity served the music rather than vice versa. These days (minus their original core of creative-spark singer Jon Anderson and recently-passed choral bassist Chris Squire), an ageing Yes seem content to graze, like cosmic cows, on their own long-established tropes. While the band do still revisit some of their former intensity in their concert catalogue, current studio recordings have shown the acrobatic flights of the old Yes replaced by a cruising argosy of pomp as long-term members age, fade and lose focus.

That said, ‘The Ice Bridge’ is a near-heroic attempt by current Yes singer (and de facto songwriter) Jon Davison to pull his lumbering bandmates back uphill. Co-written with keyboard player Geoff Downes – whose fantasy-soundtrack synths and trumpeting analogue leads provide the song with most of its pomp – it’s an attempt at linking our current precarious position of climate threat to the Paleo-American crossing of the Beringian steppe, over sixteen thousand years ago. A survival song, in blurred terms. “With fear of extinction, / we’re pushed to the edge of the ice. / Instinctive direction, / a drive to survive.” 

It’s never precisely clear what Davison’s “Snowflower Elder”, leading his people across the mammoth steppe to Alaska, has to do with our current, floundering status as twenty-first century blitzoid man; but lyrical exactitude has always been rare with Yes. Still, ‘The Ice Bridge’ is a typically Yes-ian melange of ancient wisdom, the past-as-future, and fanfares for spiritual unity. While the music remains as earthbound as a pilgrim caravan, it’s expansive; and after a decade of creative disappointment, it’s good to hear something which echoes at least some of the Yes strengths of old.

While Squire’s soaring Anglican harmonies are much missed, his replacement Billy Sherwood recaptures some of the ex-bassman’s grinding instrumental swing. Rather than winding his guitars into the heart of the music, Steve Howe now flies in stern flaring pronouncements like an occasional god on a cloud. But it’s Davison’s show this time, tumbling harmony cadences against the rolling rhythm, persistently pushing his saga of hope and determination, and ensuring that all of the proggy pennants are backed up with heart – and at least Yes now sound like a version of themselves again, rather than a shadow of themselves.

Mediaevalism has, on occasion, been an ingredient in the Yes stew; for other bands, it’s a raison d’etre. German “mediaeval rockers” Brachmond embrace it ardently, entwining bagpipe, flute, violin and flights of campfire harmonies into their twin-guitar heavy metal punch. Although they’re a product of re-enactment meets and contemporary folk fayres, their old-tyme enthusiasms seem more akin to a heavy sauce-dousing than a faithful immersion. Thanks to extra guitar roar and some surprisingly punky drumming, they’re considerably closer to Iron Maiden than they are to, say, Gryphon, Ougenweide or even fellow fayrists like Schandmaul. Nonetheless, their irreverent gusto overcomes any purist qualms.

Mining the Brothers Grimm and the dark-fantasy TV series ‘Grimm’ (more or less equally), ‘Teufelsdanz’ does what a lot of the more hectic and rebellious folk music does: linking the supernatural with wilder human hungers, and with stuff that goes on behind God’s back and out of sight of the church spire. Passing the pellmell folk-metal guitars, strings and pipes and unravelling the German lyrics reveals some zesty infernality – a Godfather Death playing a song on old bones; an irresistible dance which fires your blood and charges your loins; a hidden and seductive Devil who offers you knowledge and compels your willing surrender, but gifts you back with spontaneity.

Perhaps it’s unsurprising that many European folk tales present the Devil almost as one of us – an adversary who must be outwitted and denied but whom it’s ultimately fun to spar with, and who seems closer to actual human feelings than do Christ and the saints. Brachmond understand this and take a full-hearted run at it, while singer Stefanie Schmid’s gutsy vocals and knowing glances make her the perfect cheerleader for a bout of witty wickedness

Drawing on Philip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard, ‘Metropolis’ and Mary Shelley, themes of willingly-mechanised men (or robots with human hearts) have wended their way through futurist prog for ages; from Rush and Buggles to The Mars Volta, steampunk rock and Tom Slatter. In that respect, Franco-Australian prog-pop act Brainsqueezed‘s upcoming album (dealing with a robot attempting to transcend its programming, and to discover a soul beyond its AI) taps into a well-established tradition. But in spite of its ‘Blade Runner’-meets-Asimov video – with its iconic android at work on human tasks, running with the animals, or undergoing significantly cryptic events in Virtualworld or the forests – the lead single is much less story-specific than that.

Rather than directly wading into mechanical-man angst or changeling dread, ‘My Fears in the Night’ concentrates on habits of terror and of self-intimidation; of how childhood nightmares lay the ground for adult insecurities and hangups. Presumably it’s a drawbridge song – a straightforward pathway to lure more resistant people into the looming Big Concept. Since Brainsqueezed’s Sébastien Laloue has a basic, if slick and industrious, idea of creating progressive rock or pop (you take an straightforward song, polish it up with some alternative or electronic rock vinegar, and then escalate the choruses and bridges with layers and layers of guitars, extra instrumentation and guest vocals) this might well work for him.

Still, as with Yes’ Paleo-American, it’s difficult to see quite how the concept ties together yet; and in this case, what separates ‘My Fears in the Night’ from being yet another well-machined bit of 2D sadness-rock. I guess I’ll have to wait a little longer to find out.

Yes: ‘The Ice Bridge’
InsideOut Music (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
23rd July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Soundcloud, YouTube, Tidal, Spotify, Amazon Music,

Yes online:
Homepage, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Tidal, Instagram, Amazon Music, HD Tracks   

 

Brachmond: ‘Teufelsdanz’
Hicktown Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
23rd July 2021

Get/stream it from:
YouTube, Apple Music, Deezer, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music

Brachmond online:
Homepage, Facebook, Twitter, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Tidal, Instagram, Amazon Music    

Brainsqueezed: ‘My Fears in the Night’
DOWEET (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
23rd July 2021

Get/stream it from:
YouTube, (other platforms t.b.c.)

Brainsqueezed online:
Homepage, Facebook, Soundcloud, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify, Amazon Music  

August 2020 – single & track reviews – ReMission International’s ‘TOS2020’; Derw’s ‘Ble Cei Di Ddod I Lawr’; The Forever Now’s ‘Reciprocals’

28 Aug

ReMission International: 'TOS2020'

ReMission International: ‘TOS2020’

You can tease The Mission all you like, but you can’t deny that they’ve got heart… not least because Wayne Hussey is usually waving it at you on the end of a long stick. Even during their full booze’n’powders youthful phase, they had an avuncular, endearing air about them, partly due to Wayne’s effusive need to be loved. Over thirty years later, they’re able to settle into the role more comfortably.

Even though ‘TOS2020’ isn’t quite The Mission in itself – it’s performed by Wayne with a small army of friends and allies under the ReMission International banner – it’s pretty much Mish at heart. Tower of Strength was always the key Mission tune, and it stays timeless when it’s building on its key elements: that elegant spidery twelve-string guitar riff (like a slithering slow jig midway-morphed into a belly dance); that knee-patter of a drum pattern; and, finally, Wayne’s voice (showing less of the cavernous keen of old and more of the intimate warmth underneath it). Drawing on mystic Mediterranean drone, its distant kissing-cousin relationship to Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir, and presumably Wayne’s childhood memories of old Mormon hymns, it’s a spirit-lifter; an admission of weakness, an expression of gratitude, an affirmation of faith.


 
This particular version is a covid/healthcare fundraiser for frontline workers, with its profits to be spread globally across a wealth of charities. The array of contributors include longtime Hussey boon companions Billy Duffy, Miles Hunt and Julianne Regan (the latter slipping smoothly back into her old Queen Eve role), plus assorted characters from Gene Loves Jezebel, including the long-estranged Aston brothers. Other Goth-tinged old-schoolers contributing are Kirk Brandon, Bauhaus’ Kevin Haskins, ex-Banshees/Creatures drummer Budgie, Lol Tolhurst, Martin Gore and Gary Numan. Also on board are Midge Ure, metal/fusioneer Steve Clarke, Smiths bassist Andy Rourke, Guns N’ Roses guitarists Robin Finck and Richard Fortus (the latter reworking the faux-Hindi string parts), Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell and (representing the neo-dark side of things) both Evi Vine and James Alexander Graham of noise-folkers The Twilight Sad. Various packages include a tribal-Goth remix by Albie Mischenzingerze and a lullaby- synthwave one by Trentemøller.

Most all-star collaborations lumber along like a tired old tailback, and you’d expect this one to be the same. Instead, it manages to coast like a streamlined train; a persistent smooth swap-over of duties from voice to voice, guitar to guitar, kit to kit. In its middle age, Tower of Strength seems to have evolved from an individual prayer into a communal round, from lighter anthem to campfire hymnal. The Mission always wanted to be luminous in the darkness. Despite the Goth-y star cast, there’s less glitz in the glow this time around, and it’s all the better for it.

Derw: 'Ble Cei Di Ddod I Lawr'

Derw: ‘Ble Cei Di Ddod I Lawr’

Having opened up with the expansive piano pop of ‘Dau Gam’ during early summer, Welsh-language chamber poppers Derw are rapidly going from strength to strength. There was a dash of Celtic soul and sophisti-pop to ‘Dau Gam’; they’ve kept all of that for ‘Ble Cei Di Ddod I Lawr’, but have incorporated it into an ornate slow-building confection which suggests a Cymrification of various sources including Clannad, Queen and Brian Wilson, with both a contemporary pop dusting and a hook into the past.

Derw’s particular dynamic remains the creative triangle comprising the songwriting partnership between Daffyd Dawson and his mother Anna Georgina, and Daffyd’s overlapping musical and performance partnership with singer Elin Fouladi: two different definitions of family which seem to have combined into a larger one. The Welsh title for the new single translates into English as ‘Where Did You Come Down’; the core concept is apparently Welsh hiraeth, or nostalgic homesickness.

 
Combining with Elin’s own part-Iranian roots, a sense of place pervades the song: more particularly, a sense of place adrift. Elin’s clear, fresh voice zigzags over rolling piano landscapes, a powerful melody skylarking its own way over plenty of places to land but always restless, as if looking for a new locale in which to renew old feelings and to build anew. Stuck in my limited Anglophone world, I’m probably overcompensating, trying to make up for missing out on the Welsh lyric which unfurls alongside the music; but you don’t have to know the Welsh to catch the mood. This is potent stuff; if it’s Celtic soul, it’s of a new, post-insular, hybrid-futured kind, and it’s very welcome.

The Forever Now: 'Reciprocals'

The Forever Now: ‘Reciprocals’

Mutuality is on the mind of The Forever Now, right now. It’s a little unclear as to where and what they are. Known as Winchester up until last year, previously associated with Toronto but now based across the icy seas in Copenhagen, they’re a duo who seem to be a little reluctant to be a duo. If you take The Forever Now as a solo act, then it’s Monty de Luna; Lauren Austin, however, is the “frequent collaborator” who seems to be something of a fixture and stands to the fore on the cover art. Musically speaking, it’s all a bit friends-with-benefits.

This is probably a bit misleading; but these kind of thoughts are provoked when a song like ‘Reciprocals’ surfaces. With a ruminating electric piano ballad at its core, it’s also a duet with no solo spots (Monty and Lauren sing in strict unison and harmony throughout). Contemporary pop choruses come at us in a rush of synthy planetarium twinkle; but the verses drop, line by line, into bitten-off spaces graced by click and patter, tinkles and rattle-rushes. Monty admits, straight out, that it’s “an honest and naked statement about the end of a relationship” as well as “a metaphor for broader statements about the world”. With his group in flux geographically, nominally and practically, it’s difficult not to read the song as a musing on changing terrain of all kinds.

 
If you’re looking for direct answers in the lyrics, there’s enough here to suggest a rationale for an honest break – “If we’re honest, I’ve been here before. / If we’re honest, I can’t see a way forward. / If we’re honest it’s not worth the fuss, / and if we’re being honest, you know I never wanted this much.” But it’s also about wordplay; masking full disclosure with abstractions and constructions, and (as Monty points out elsewhere) blurring the language of love with those of analytical equations. “So if you’ve got the time, then its time we go, / and if you’ve got the lines, then it’s time we draw them. / Because in another life I’d never let you go, / but I’ve been spending mine on reciprocals, on reciprocals.”

You don’t need to know or think about any of this, of course, and you might be more comfortable not knowing.

ReMission International: ‘TOS2020’
SPV, SPV 243541 LP/SPV 243542 CD-EP/SPV 24354D (no barcode)
Vinyl/CD/download single
Released: 28th August 2020

Get it from: buy/download from ReMission International store or Beauty in Chaos store; stream via YouTube
The Mission online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM Apple Music YouTube Deezer Google Play Pandora Spotify Tidal Instagram Amazon Music

Derw: ‘Ble Cei Di Ddod I Lawr’
CEG Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
28th August 2020
Get it from: download from Amazon Music; stream via Soundcloud or Spotify
Derw online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud YouTube Spotify

The Forever Now: ‘Reciprocals’
Symphonic Distribution (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
28th August 2020
Get it from: download from Bandcamp; stream via Soundcloud, Deezer, Google Play or Spotify. This is also the lead track from the ‘Reciprocals’ EP.
The Forever Now online:
Homepage Facebook Soundcloud Bandcamp YouTube Deezer Google Play Spotify Instagram Amazon Music
 

April 2020 – single & track reviews – Jesse Cutts/Heavy Lamb’s ‘CONFINEMENT_release2’; Godcaster’s ‘Serpentine Carcass Crux Birth’; Kryptograf’s ‘The Veil’

17 Apr

Heavy Lamb/Jesse Cutts: 'CONFINEMENT_release 2'

Heavy Lamb/Jesse Cutts: ‘CONFINEMENT_release 2’

Following up Jo Spratley and Bic Hayes’ disinterring of interesting outtake/buried gem cover versions for the first of the Confinement Tapes releases, Jo’s son Jesse Cutts offers his own familial reinterpretations.

Firstly, his intermittent Brighton odd-rock band Heavy Lamb (a deliverer of “loud demented pop” since 2014 and currently a duo, victims of persistent lineup changes and self-induced social media wipes) breaks cover again for a cover of a Cardiacs tune, ‘Odd Even’. Bar a dew-sprinkling new proggy midsection, it’s pretty true to the original: perky acoustic guitars, psychedelic organ crunchiness, and a happily teetering stack of chords. They even reproduce its Very Happy Caterpillar of a keyboard solo, down to the last charging feint and twiddle. Jo herself guests on lead vocals, and is less of a punk sphinx than usual – although with a tune as bouncy as this one, that can hardly be helped. Like the best Cardiacs songs, it defies easy comprehension. Odd Even embraces life, death, weeping, burial and trust, and flies to you and away from you like a friendly sparrow that can’t quite make its mind up.


 
Jesse’s other offering is a solo track: his version of ‘Carefree Clothes’, originally by Cardiacs-family folk-poppers The Shrubbies (the perky precursors to North Sea Radio Orchestra). In all honesty, there’s little to tell the difference between Jesse and Heavy Lamb anymore. It’s all a fresh rejuvenation of the bouncy, wilful noisy Anglo-pop line which takes in XTC, Supergrass and Two Door Cinema Club, and which sneakily conceals its sophistication behind its enthusiasm and hookiness.


 
It sounds as if Jo may be on board for this one too, which features vocals recorded on Brighton beach “just after the world flipped on its side”. That’s the only hint of Confinement Tape lockdown blues in the whole effort, which is otherwise a springtime hit. Or, to be clearer, a glittering sun-tickled hit of springtime, romping in the garden and throwing concern to the wind. It’s like a little Deist singalong, pulled into raptures by budding daffodils, and not in the least bit embarrassed. As with the previous Confinement release, you can pick this up for nothing, but any cash that you do chuck into the hat goes to support various seriously incapacitated Cardiacs, so try to give generously.

Godcaster: 'Serpentine Carcass Crux Birth'

Godcaster: ‘Serpentine Carcass Crux Birth’

Since their emergence at the start of last year, Godcaster have spat out a sequence of songs like technicolour hairballs. Sometimes they’ve been wild-haired funk followers, a set of white wastrels getting high off the Mothership’s exhaust; or tuneful noise-botherers in the vein of Mercury Rev or The Flaming Lips. At other times, they’ve been fiddly post-Zappa freaks hiding their own sophistication behind a clattery mask.

‘Serpentine Carcass Crux Birth’ pins them to the more complex corner of their freak flag for now. It wouldn’t be out of place at a Cardiacs celebration: a garage knocking-out which won’t be constrained to basics. A hammering kinked (and Kinked) riff starts off immediate and direct, but then ladders off through far too many chord changes: just because it can, and because that kind of triumphant harmonic parkour is somehow just what it takes to con fleapit-venue punks into yelling bebop licks.

The lyrics fit admirably, wrapping themselves around delusions of grandeur and escalating through a violent shower of weirdness. “When I think about how I was born, / the tearing flesh and scales blow my horror horn… / Circumcision of my eye. / Widows cry, / punctured it was by Satan’s arrow. / Sic Red Sea Pharaoh – / Leaving all my wives to bear my children while I / die to my flesh, die to this world, eating the flesh, drinking the wine. / My soul the divine.” You get two minutes of jarring fireworks, and then that’s it; a micro-epic that does its job and then evaporates, like a ancient temple which suddenly explodes.


 

Krypograf: 'The Veil'

Krypograf: ‘The Veil’

No such flightiness for Kryptograf. The Norwegians give you heavy guitar psych in the late ’60s vein of The Groundhogs; and that’s what you get, seasoned by just a little Motorpsycho and Black Sabbath. It’s heads-down, well-trodden non-nonsense oogly for biker blokes who know what they like, their old acid trips hanging like brooding firefly sparks round their craggy brows.

If you know what that’s like, you’ll have no surprises with how ‘The Veil’ is. A ride around a well-trodden circuit, spinning a well-tended wheel; a journey in which no-one ever really gets off the saddle.


 

Jesse Cutts/Heavy Lamb: ‘CONFINEMENT_release2’
The Confinement Tapes, CONFINEMENT_release2
Download/streaming single
Released: 8th April 2020
Get it from:
free/pay-what-you-like download from Bandcamp
Jesse Cutts/Heavy Lamb online:
Facebook Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM

Godcaster: ‘Serpentine Carcass Crux Birth’
Ramp Local (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 13th April 2020

Get it from: download from Bandcamp or Amazon Music; stream from Spotify
Godcaster online:
Facebook Bandcamp Last FM YouTube Spotify Instagram Amazon Music

Kryptograf: ‘The Veil’
Apollon Records, no catalogue number or barcode
Download/streaming single
Released: 17th April 2020

Get it from: download from Bandcamp, stream from Amazon Music or Spotify
Kryptograf online:
Facebook Bandcamp Last FM YouTube Spotify Amazon Music
 

January 2019 – upcoming English rock gigs – Francis Dunnery’s ‘Big Lad In The Windmill’ mini-tour (18th to 20th January)

12 Jan

Next week, gloriously wayward singer-songwriter Francis Dunnery revisits his past with It Bites – in solo format – as he takes music from their 1986 debut album ‘The Big Lad In The Windmill’ out on an English micro-tour.

Francis Dunnery, 11th and 18th to 20th January 2019

When pompous would-be music tastemakers like myself roll out their list of great pop and rock albums of the 1980s, ‘The Big Lad In The Windmill’ generally isn’t on there. That’s unsurprising. As a decade, the ‘80s sprawled into outspoken ideological polarisation, during which it sometimes seemed as if everyone in popular music was a purist poseur of some kind or other; whether they were swanning about on yachts sporting terrifying ozone-threatening hairstyles, acting out grimly righteous/reductionist salt-of-the-earth positionings, haute-couture megaphoning about The Future or (rather more constructively) hurtling around America in vans trying to build an alternative economy. Perhaps that’s over-simplifying, but it’s certainly true that it was an age of vivid stances, and that some terrible and reductive snobberies developed as a side-effect of said stances and manifestos. In such a time and in such a milieu, ‘The Big Lad’ was the kind of album that wasn’t supposed to happen… and many people seemed (and still seem) to think it shouldn’t have been allowed to happen.

It Bites: 'The Big Lad In The Windmill'

It Bites: ‘The Big Lad In The Windmill’

Admittedly on spec it was also a little preposterous. A shotgun marriage of glutinous, glittery ‘80s pop with hard rock snorts and cartwheeling prog stunts, it was recorded by four self-confessed working-class hicks from England’s gorgeous, isolated Lake District, who also happened to be unfashionably virtuosic as musicians. Possessing a keen ear for pastiche and adaptation, they’d had a prehistory back home as a badly-behaved covers band. Plying the tough Cumbrian circuit of nightclubs and working men’s clubs, they’d mastered reams of contemporary pop hits (Level 42, Police, Haircut 100 and so on) while simultanously nursing a profound love for the 70’s complexity and flourishes of Genesis and Yes, UK and Weather Report. All of which showed by the time they came to write their own stuff. By the mid-‘80s (abetted by resident keyboard popinjay and arrangements genius John Beck), Dunnery was putting together original songs which played on both sets of preoccupations.

Some smartarse once tagged It Bites as “bubblegum prog”, which isn’t too bad a label. It encapsulates the band’s mastery of the kind of throwaway immediate pop tunes which prove to have a tenacious, sticky life of their own: it also takes into account their taste for florid illustrative musical passages. In addition, their playing had a layer of fantasy-funk and soul itch (due to admixtures of Steve Arrington and Prince, plus Dick Nolan’s stalking, slippery bass grooves), and some hard rock crunch (staunch, sturdy drummer Bob Dalton was a Led Zeppelin guy at heart). Collectively, It Bites aspired to the well-drilled, muscular “follow-this” ethic of a black showband; which seemed to be judged as less of a virtue when coming from a white British rock band of the times, where restrictive amateurism or beefy stiffness was the order of the day.

Bear in mind that this was years before white-boy eclecticism inveigled its way back into mainstream rock and pop. Ween were still only releasing home-made cassettes; Jellyfish wouldn’t show up for another three years, and while Frank Zappa stubbornly flew the flag for stylistic fluidity, he was an elder statesman turned cult artiste in a niche of his own. Even Queen had calmed down a bit. Had they slipped into a more parodic approach lyrical approach, It Bites might have suddenly woken up to find that their nearest British equivalents were The Barron Knights. Fortunately, they took themselves a little more seriously: there was silliness in their playful approach, but it was matched by an earnest bravado which won them affection from audiences even as it drew critical disdain.


 
Once signed by Virgin and given a shot at making a record, It Bites treated it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to throw everything they had into the effort and stir it up like crazy. Throughout ‘The Big Lad’ they’re coltish and restless, latching onto impeccable mainstream pop-rock stylings only to suddenly career off into wildly played, cunningly constructed breaks. Turn Me Loose and I Got You Eating Out Of My Hand mercilessly run straightforward pop songs through a mill of transformational time and mood changes. Almost anything goes – heavy metal, jazz-fusion arrhythmia, Al di Meola flamenco, even the drum machine and Bontempi drone of a narcotized lounge act – although the band backtrack and flawlessly reconstruct the songs at the end.

Producer Alan Shacklock entered into the spirit of things with a vengeance. He kept a “riot track” free in the mix to capture the band’s raucous in-studio jabbering; he delivered a gleefully glittering plastic sound which revelled in every Japanese-digital synth chime, every start/stop noise-gate interruption and every over-exaggerated bit of sound-panning. He also accidentally sped up the master tape, resulting in the band sounding (according to Francis) “like Pinky and Perky.” The result was – and is – a record which feels like a sudden soda pop binge after months away from the stuff.

‘The Big Lad’ is generally remembered for a surprise Top Ten single. Cantering toytown hit Calling All The Heroes married the band’s musical deftness to old Republic serials, rocking cradles and boyhood cowboy games, fuelled by an earworm chorus and some sneaky false endings. (Presumably the Wild West schtick struck a chord with Shacklock – his own early ‘70s prog band Babe Ruth had recorded The Mexican, an Alamo-themed story with which Calling All The Heroes shares a number of passing musical similarities). For many people, this song is where It Bites have been permanently stuck: pegged to a couple of fanfaring pop hooks remembered by almost every Briton who lived through mid-‘80s chart pop. In the video a bleached’n’styled, cutesied-up Dunnery and co. bob nervously, like a loopier Go West, presaging the marketing problems which would plague them for the rest of their existence. Live, they’d pull out the full prog trickbag.


 
It’s a shame that the album’s glossy, hyperactive surfaces and loop-the-loop stunting make it easy to ignore the substance beneath. Fair enough: something like Wanna Shout mostly exists in order to run demented macho-guitar heroics over stuttering go-go synths, and All In Red does little more than throb like a fourteen-year-old boy’s heat dream of Zeppelin colliding with Level 42. This isn’t the kind of record you put on to remember angry alienation in pre-punk-era Manchester, or to recapture political struggles, or even to remember belonging to anything much (unless it was being part of the crowd which understood the band’s straightforward musical verve and the down-to-earth Cumbrian personalities which bedrocked it).

Yet elsewhere on ‘The Big Lad’, genuine stories about real people emerge from beneath Beck’s thunderous keyboard chimes and Dunnery’s barrel-roll guitar playing. The band’s follow-up single Whole New World is mostly forgotten. It’s actually a fine, agonised pop song, whose horn-assisted contortions marry dashes of dumped-bloke Motown and Memphis under the Christmas-tree synths. On first impressions, Cold Tired And Hungry might be a screamingly uncool rock-snortin’ melodrama, but on a second look its histrionics run parallel to the naked, hurt-boy stances Prince was trying on at the time (although it sounds more like Steve Marriott locked into a sobbing death spiral with Brian May).

Best, though, are a couple of tracks which embrace genuine personal memories rather than generic pop tropes. Under the bravado, Screaming On The Beaches is a flipside take on Calling All The Heroes’ daydream battles. Based on Dunnery’s teasing-out of traumatic wartime memories from his dad (who’d served as a soldier in the Burma Campaign), it’s tech-laden and roaring, screwing its disorientating picture of ordinary men coming apart under fire into a party mixture of twisted pop-metal riffing, jazz-funk cat pounces and Beck’s wailing keytar. Over the next few years, the band would polish it up into a stompingly danceable live highlight, demonstrating that they had almost as much in common with Trouble Funk as they did with Genesis. Conversely, You’ll Never Go To Heaven is one of the 1980s’ great lost lighters-aloft anthems. A heart-wringing Catholic-guilt ballad (capped with Philip Glass pulse-synths and angel choirs), it features a desperate, spiralling outro solo from Dunnery that sounds like Allan Holdsworth giving vent to a primal scream.



 
* * * * * * * *

Francis Dunnery’s come a long way from the nervous, bullish twenty-three-year-old he was when he recorded ‘The Big Lad’. Four years and two albums after its release, his restless nature (plus a much-confessed dip into a serious drink problem) split him away from his more stolid bandmates. While It Bites have gone on to have a belated second life without him, he’s spent the intervening time following a solo career demonstrating that he’s a rough diamond who decided that he prefers to stay a little rough.

At the time, the necessary polish and consistency required to play the pop game wasn’t right for him. It still isn’t, but he’s managed to turn it to his advantage. Now entirely independent, he follows his own particular muse, popping out records as and when it suits him, and building a relationship with his listeners which has the same mixture of generosity, conversationality and occasional cantankerousness as a genuine friendship. At fifty-six, Francis resembles that old lag with delightful hidden depths whom you might meet during stints on a building site: the one who retains his working-class saltiness, cracks wicked jokes and is still handy in a fist-fight, but likes to sit you down during lunchbreaks and talk about Jung, history and esoterica.

His records have run a similar lane-swapping gamut – the kind of tasteful fingerpicked adult pop which gives the genre a good name; acoustic meditations on life and wounds and healing; fanbase-bewildering dips into laptop R&B; reconstructive tributes to the gothic Cumbrian jazz-metal written by his late brother Barry, and so on. Psychology, astronomy, metaphysics, bite-backs and broad jokes litter his songs. Freed from the standard album-tour-album treadmill, a typical Dunnery gig is now a mixture of friendly encounter group and surreal pub talent night. As well as playing songs, he’ll be telling his audience stories, teasing them about prog cliches or dwarf porn, gleefully upending a performance with comedy and spontaneous competitions, or spicing things up with unexpected guest appearances from his capacious address book (could be a musical friend like Robert Plant, Theo Travis or Steve Hackett; could be an actual fucking pantomime horse…)

While they’ve kept much of the musicality, recent Francis reworkings of the ‘Big Lad’ songs (on his ‘Vampires‘ album) are a touch more sedate and patient – breezier, and partially shorn of their pyrotechnic plastic-synth fizz. In truth, while he’s still more than capable of wringing out the dazzling guitar flash and the singing, the years do make something of a difference: mostly because when set against later Dunnery work (with its accounts of mid-life bereavement, parenthood and the battles fought between a person’s ever-resistant roots and the idea of who they’re trying to be) ‘The Big Lad’ is a bit too callow and fizzy. It’ll always be a young man’s album – drunk on possibilities and grappling with the spirit of discovery while working out some of that immediate post-childhood angst; over-aware of its own muscles and energy; distractedly trying to jigsaw together a sense of history, background and its own place within it via song and allusion. Perhaps that’s part of the thinking behind retaining Francis’ onetime protégé Luke Machin (a former teen guitar prodigy-turned-twentysomething jazz/prog/metal ace) in a crack, hand-picked live band also including Tiger Moth Tales’ Peter Jones and Freak Kitchen drummer Björn Fryklund (plus fretless bassist Paul Brown, holding down the ever-underrated Dick Nolan role).

Regardless of this, even if ‘The Big Lad In The Windmill’ is two parts kiddie sherbet to one part brilliance – and even if you want to clobber it over the head as an example of undeniable ’80s excess – it still stands up. Looking back, it’s still recognisably Dunnery music, a handful of rough adolescent prisms through which his younger, fearful self blinks from underneath the dazzle. Catholic-rooted, disaster-prone but unstoppable; heartfelt and playful; naïve and wise; soft and noisy, driven and impulsive. The man Francis would become – the man he is now – is still waiting in those songs; waiting to be knocked into shape via further adventures, further bumps and arguments along the way. I bet that there are plenty of ’80s pop refugees who wish they’d written juvenilia like this: songs with heart, flash and legs.

Dates:

  • The Slade Rooms, 32-40 Broad Street, Wolverhampton, West Midlands, WV1 1HP, England, Friday 18th January 2019, 7. 00pm – information here, here and here
  • Manchester Academy, University Of Manchester Students’ Union, Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9PR, England, Saturday 19th January 2019, 7.00pm – information here, here and here
  • Bush Hall, 310 Uxbridge Road, Shepherds Bush, London, W12 7LJ, England, Sunday 20th January 2019, 7.00pm – information here, here and here

 

January 2019 – upcoming London gigs – Monelise, Laura Victoria, Paul Reynolds and Paul Go free in Peckham; Amy Balog at the Poetry Café; The Osiris Club, Kavus Torabi and ANTA in Camden (all 9th January)

4 Jan

Three for next Wednesday…

* * * * * * * *

Monelise + Laura Victoria + Paul Reynolds + Paul Go, 9th January 2019

A free gig down in Peckham showcases four independent songwriters, with recent Goldsmiths graduate Monelise at the head of the bill. Positioning herself in the dreamy, arty end of pop, she tosses leading comparisons and tells around like chiffon scarves – David Lynch, Kate Bush, her own synaesthesia – and the talk-up seems to be working so far, with her videos being played in Topshop and a Pledgemusic campaign working hard at getting her debut EP completed (and her live shows up and running across a Mediterranean living-room tour and an Edinburgh Fringe fixture). She’s clearly as much a visual artist as a musical one, with her final degree show at the Deptford Albany last December already featuring screens, visuals and drifting snatches of 1920s opera shellac as well as a four-piece band.

I admire the ambition and industry, even if I’m not yet sold on the output. The influences Monelise is citing have the ability to reach down into your deep dreams and jar you. In comparison, she herself still seems content to drift along on the surface of a dusk dream, sounding pretty and basking in moonlight. I can only go by what I’m seeing. It’s possible that Monelise’s keeping her cards close to her chest as regards what she’s put out so far, and perhaps the live show’s the only current way of appreciating her in full. Available evidence shows two versions of her – the managed one (who releases slick spiritual-couture videos and tracks which blend contemporary pop and trip hop into seamless, depthless musings), and the far more interesting and unpolished live Monelise (who strives and juggles simultaneous singing, keyboards and theremin, and who might be shakier and more erratic at the moment but who also offers possibilities of growing, learning and interacting which her hermetically-sealed recorded persona currently doesn’t).



 
There are no such abstractions or evasions in the music of Laura Victoria. A onetime scion of Tyneside youth folk ensemble FolkESTRA North, she belts out punchy songs of life and love drawing from English folk, acoustic pop and Americana, accompanying herself on cello and leading a three-piece band featuring drummer Josh Wolfsohn and fiddler/banjoist Jo Cooper. Now up to her third album, and having been a regular presence on folk scene gigs up and down the country for twelve years, she’s confident and fully formed: what you see is what you get. I see sunniness, vigour and empathy in equal measure. In addition, she runs folk singing classes at Morley College and IKLECTIK, and has done at least one sprightly, ramshackle Joan Jett cover, if anyone’s interested…



 
Paul Go is another transplanted Northumbrian folkie, although of a very different order and style to Laura. His only available song so far is soft, shy and sweet – a gentle, momentary folk-pop sketch with brush drums, donkey-ride fingerpicking and fiddle contrasting awkward human reclusiveness with the unconscious confident grace of animals. Of the other two tracks he’s released, one’s a skittish, part-broken guitar improvisation designed to make use of the acoustic space of Ealing’s Vestry Hall. The other shows an unexpected interest in Chinese music, featuring the slithering sigh of an erhu fiddle, chimes and a guest narrative in Mandarin. Hopefully some of these other sides of Paul will bleed through in the concert: soft suburban musing and amiability are fine, but extra dimensions are better.



 
That’s something which already holds true for Paul Reynolds. Sometimes part of triple-threat modern folk trio Vespers, he plays bass for his own projects and for various other people, but graduates to piano for his own solo songs and for spacious, introverted instrumental improvisations (sometimes artfully jarred by odd tunings and by interspersed sound effects and electronics). I’m guessing that the songs will take preeminence this time around. Evidence so far suggests that they’re in the classic vein of chamber-folk touched with elements of classical and chanson, and thrumming behind a patina of English reserve: a mixture of craft and of carefully harboured emotion. Paul’s also got a sideline in little sonic experimental dramas such as The Brading Experience, suggesting a quietly uncontainable musician and aural imagination behind the meticulous skill.

 
* * * * * * * *

All right – in advance of her spoken word/musical set at the Poetry Cafe, here’s Amy Balog‘s opening statement:

“The hungry vulture of feminism is circling in the grey sky above the dying Femme Fatale. She’s being tortured to death by girls who don’t understand her power, thinking it somehow makes them weaker. Her admirers are collecting her sweet, priceless blood in vintage crystal flasks, trying to preserve at least this one colour still left in a humourless and passionless world. But she’s still breathing, and it’s not too late to save her from a cruel demise…”

Amy Balog: 'The Dying Femme Fatale', 9th January 2019

I’m not sure quite what to make of Amy yet. She’s a Hungarian Londoner infused with Gothic prose and horror erotica; a refugee from science journalism who carried out a moonlight flit into the world of speculative fiction and dream psychology. Having reinvented herself as a novelist and poet, she’s now (at the age of twenty-seven) standing up in front of audiences to deliver a performance-poetry manifesto exploring “the nature of femininity and feminine power from a perspective critical of contemporary feminism… other themes include political correctness, identity politics, religion and mental illness.” As part of the process, she’s struck up an alliance with jazz-psych guitarist Carlos Ferrao, who brings a splintery musical soundscape to her recitations – hollowbody chugs, echoes and grumbles, deliquescing now-you-see-them-now-you-don’t riffs.


 
Heh. I’ve never much trusted anyone who scorns and decries “political correctness” and uses that ire as a rallying call. Having watched or suffered losses and setbacks related to mental illness, I’m suspicious of anything which politicises or potentially celebrates madness; and the fact remains that if you’re a woman arguing against feminism, you’re basically aiming an axe at your own ankles. That said, there’s more to Amy than flashy reactionary advertising or self-indulgent apologism. By her own admission, there’s plenty of Camille Paglia in her work, plenty of Jung, Nietzsche, Poe and the Comte du Lautréamont – the bloodwork of surrealism, expressionism, contrarian thought, like a kind of Goth take on Lydia Lunch.

Don’t expect measured, objective consideration here. Amy’s interested in transformative apocalypses, irrational dream quests and night journeys, the truth implicit in the fluid and contradictory power balance between artist and muse, or about the flip side of objectification. Her female narrators may be thwarted or humiliated or imperilled, but they’re also resistant and strangely bulletproof, with a core of self-will: heroic archetypes determined to establish their own concept of femaleness. Core to this is Amy’s own perception of beauty as a force in its own right – it threads through her words, and her Gothic redhead looks and sensual witchy Tori Amos presence are an integral part of her work; the vessel for the wine.

Perhaps it’s best to allow for the fact that feminism, by its very nature, is a broad church with room for multiple perspectives and considerations; that there are many pathways to female assertion and that none of them should be readily shouted down; and that Amy’s still in the early stages of her night journey. Despite her determined stance, at the moment there are more questions and challenges in place than answers. It may be interesting to see where she goes.



 
* * * * * * * *

The Osiris Club + Kavus Torabi + ANTA, 9th January 2019A heavier, more masculine psychedelia gets an airing up at the Black Heart, where record label Old Empire are putting on a night of darker and/or harder sounds, headed up by occult post-punk/progressive metal metallers The Osiris Club.

Originally formed with the intent of fusing horror film soundtracks with instrumental avant-metal, the OC has now swollen to a full-on song septet. The changes seem to be resulting in accessible, gloomily elegant tritone epics of tingling guitar and droning indie vocal; as if The House of Love had thrown their hands up in the air and confessed to having been fantasy comics fans all along (while various members of Fantômas grinned and egg them on in the background). That said, for epics such as A Winter’s Night On Sentinel Hill the Club pull out all of the Hawkwind oscillators and Van Der Graaf/Iron Maiden declamations, unveiling a Lovecraft-prog grandeur in full glorious/ghastly melodrama.



 
No such code-switching games for ANTA – described by Chaos Theory as the purveyors of “velvetine cosmic textures delivered as a hammer blow to the soul”, they open the show with their own enthusiastically convoluted, heavy-prog brain-tangling rock swing. Sandwiched in the middle is Kavus Torabi. Having recently exploded the Garage at the helm of his psychedelic prog octet Knifeworld, he returns to the sullen, trepidatious, post-nova ember-glow of his solo work; trawling through shimmering webs of harmonium, effected drones and knell-clangs of acoustic guitar, exploring a forbidding hinterland of vulnerability and permeable spirit-space.



 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Monelise + Laura Victoria + Paul Reynolds + Paul Go
Rye Wax, 133 Rye Lane, Peckham, London, SE15 4ST, England
Wednesday, 9 January 2019, 7.30pm
– information here

The Poetry Society presents:
Amy Balog: ‘The Dying Femme Fatale – An Evening of Poetry and Music’
The Poetry Cafe, 22 Betterton Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2H 9BX, England
Wednesday 9th January 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here

Old Empire presents:
The Osiris Club + Kavus Torabi + Anta
The Black Heart, 2-3 Greenland Place, Camden Town, London, NW1 0AP, England
Wednesday 9th January 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here
 

July 2018 – some post-Doran thoughts on smaller music festivals; and next week’s EppyFest in Cheltenham (27th & 28th July)

21 Jul

John Doran of ‘The Quietus’ wrote a pithy, on-the-nose article a while back about the ongoing corruption of big music festivals, lambasting them as “unsatisfying money hoovers designed to deplete your bank account for minimal return… a heavily branded and patronisingly over-mediated experience – with little in the way of the rough round the edges, unexpected, challenging or genuinely exciting experience that makes being a music fan worthwhile; just a massive spoonfed dose of the ubiquitous, the hyped and the monolithically popular.”

As a follow-up punch, John slashed a hole in the backdrop in order to expose the ethics behind the festival business: how, even as you’re frolicking in a ludicrously overpriced facsimile of countercultural free-spiritedness, your ticket money wriggles its way into the war chests and “shockingly regressive campaigns” of suspect billionaires intent on crushing any genuine counterculture that’s little more than a cheery mask on a product, funding a host of life-killing causes including anti-LGBTQ, anti-union and anti-immigration initiatives. Unsurprisingly, he concluded “personally I’d sooner go to a smaller, more grass-roots independent festival and have a clutch of genuinely odd, uplifting, joyous and memorable experiences on a smaller, freer scale.” He lists plenty of smaller, more conscientious festivals which might better suit your ethics or your conscience – Supersonic, End of the Road, many more. Modestly, he didn’t mention ‘The Quietus’s own efforts .

I might lack John’s edge, but I’ll still say amen to all that. There’s also always the option of going further off the map, seeking out festivals beyond the tents’n’burgers belch. I’ve covered some such here… Marchlands’ annual musical/theatrical celebration of reaching across borders and understanding history; the composer-driven London New Wind Festival; New York’s wonderfully brainy and diverse Ecstatic Music Festival. On a more domestic level, there’s next month’s Whole World Window 2 in Preston, raising urgent money for psychedelic hero Tim Smith’s health care while also functioning as a focussing lens for assorted rock and pop acts existing in a rowdy, complex continuum outside ot the mainstream. The staunchest supportive and communal ethics, unsurprisingly, still hover around punk events, those pass-around-a-donation-bucket battles for big values in small places (I might often be bored by the music, but I profoundly admire the commitment and the generosity of spirit).

* * * * * * * *

As regards the coming week, Gloucestershire’s EppyFest – just a week away now – is the epitome of a pocket festival. Now heading in its seventh year, it also pretty much defines “boutique”. Its amiably knitted-together selections of psychedelic rock and pop, folk, electric and acoustic chamber music and accomplished instrumentalist is undeniably cosy, but in the right way – unashamed and unaggressive, slightly specialised while toting an inclusive audience ethic. There’s a rosy English glow to it, alright, but not the kind which shoulders out differences while indulging a truculent and moneyed bucolic fantasy. The Eppyfest England is one which is comfortable in itself, but not too smug to look outwards: mostly white, but not bleached and angry. In the best sense and intimation, it’s a liberal parish.

Gong, 2018

The Friday lineup, starting in the evening – is the briefer concert, with just two sets of performers. The headliners are the current and ongoing version of cosmic-rock libertine troupe Gong, still romping along after the death of founding holy prankster Daevid Allen. This isn’t the first time there’s been a post-Allen Gong: percussionist Pierre Moerlen floated a de-hippified mid’-70s jazz-rock version around Europe which had little to do with Allen’s mischievous space rock parables, while the band’s original feminine-mystiquer Gilli Smyth led a sporadic Mother Gong version at points in the ’80s. This, however, is the first Gong that’s been a direct continuation of Allen’s work: thumbing its collective nose at his departure from music and from life, and mourning him by celebrating his ethos.

This Gong iteration is helmed by delightfully wayward, larger-than-life Anglo-Persian prodigy (and ‘Misfit City’ favourite) Kavus Torabi, who established himself as one of the premier, most open-eared British psychedelic talents while with The Monsoon Bassoon and Cardiacs, has continued it with Knifeworld and Guapo, and who has in effect been rehearsing for Gong leadership for the whole of his musical life. Expect the same applecart-overturning riffs, the mingled brass and electric strings, the space-dust party atmospheres. The old firm’s still a family.



 
In support, Liverpudlian guitarist Neil Campbell is arguably one of the most gifted musicians still unknown to the general public. An omnivorous stylistic polymath, he’s mastered contemporary classical, progressive rock, jazz and assorted other styles to the point in which he can pass seamlessly between and through them; and he comes trailing awestruck references from guitar scholars and crossover music master musicians alike. Working off nylon- and steel-strung acoustic guitars (with a chain of echoes, loop pedals and other processors) he creates detailed, fiery electro-acoustic tapestries when playing solo: given the opportunity, he’ll also roll out orchestral concerti, small ensemble pieces, vital building-block contributions to the larger works of other, and site-specific concerts in venues of all kinds.



 
North Sea Radio Orchestra headline Saturday’s seven hours of music – as ever, they draw together Anglo-pastoral classical, a stolen kiss or two of folk melody, crossover chamber music and English art-rock. (They’ve covered Robert Wyatt, as well as old Christmas carols and Vernon Elliot). Sixteen years in, they’re a little smaller and tighter than they used to be – the choir is long gone and the ensemble streamlined, with most of the Victorian poetry settings consigned back to the bookshelf in favour of more personal lyrics of chalkhills and children, lost loved ones and the make-do-and-mend of life.

North Sea Radio Orchestra, 2nd June 2018

They’re still a quietly enchanting proposition, gently webbed together by a deceptive fragility, a village-singer tone and Craig Fortnam’s elegant compositions, and they grow ever more comfortable in themselves as the years pass. From German kosmische, they bring in that cosmic powerplant throb: from Frank Zappa and Canterbury, the somersaults of harmony and tinkle of xylophone (with the lyrical coarseness and silly whimsy gently steered out of the picture); from English chamber music, the gentle green ache. All soft borders, all subtle mind.



 
Second down the bill is Doris Brendel. The Vienna-born multi-instrumentalist daughter of concert-piano legend Alfred Brendel, she originally made her mark in ‘90s neoprog and underground AOR providing vocals, guitar, sax and flageolet to The Violet Hour: when that didn’t last, she applied herself to whatever was going while cultivating her own records in her own time. She’s refined her earlier approach, but what you get now is still pretty much what you got then – a singer who can go from a dream-folk murmur to a gutsy rhythm-and-blues blast, who puts on an assured show of muscular rock and costumed pizazz. An old-school rock chick, but one who’s taken control and honed it to excellence. There might be differences in tone, but latter-day ladyrockers like She Makes War and Ciara Clifford might look to her and immediately see a spiritual older sister.



 
Via a shifting gambler’s hand of interrelated projects – and a proven ability to survive practical and artistic disruption – the persistently thoughtful Oxford prog-rock collective Sanguine Hum have explored music for nearly twenty years now. In many respects, they’re a back-to-first-principles prog-initiative. Rather than constructing vast vanity pieces (as if to impress their aspirational Mellotronic forebears), the Hum are based very much in a lush’n’lambent ’70s pop mode – as least as much Neil Young, Steely Dan or David Bowie as Genesis, Zappa or Canterbury – which they can then wilfully and logically expand to bigger and broader things (engulfing and building upon later influences such as Boards Of Canada along the way).

For this acoustic-slanted EppyFest slot, lead singer/guitarist Joff Winks and keyboard player Matt Baber (the latter fresh from last month’s release of his “ambient prog minimalism” solo album ‘Suite For Piano and Electronics‘) will play as a duo; exploring at least one track from each of the project’s scattered albums and personae, with new material as a bonus.



 
Electric chamber group Firefly Burning were to have held the middle of the bill but had to pull out. To replace them, in comes a harder noise in the shape of the explosive wit, ominous chording and multi-layered songwriting of London’s Thumpermonkey. I described them a while back as “the missing link between Peter Hammill and Neal Stephenson”: a tag which they really seemed to like, so let’s run with it. A motley crew of brainiacs, meticulators and fast friends with their heads in lofty places and their toes sunk in dirty post-metal, they have the kind of esoteric preoccupations (and the wherewithal to communicate them) which encourage interest rather than eye-rolling and detachment. Unshamedly weird-fictional, the songs have covered Nigerian email fraud, Aztec hauntings, bizarre medical conditions and Victorian explorers amongst many other topics, all via a rich filter of literary and cinematic techniques and dark, sophisticated humour.

As for the music, Thumpermonkey play within that increasingly rare strata of hard rock in which there’s room to breathe, think, listen and explore beauty as well as nail down a predatory riff. Michael Woodman sings like an athletic college don moonlighting as an operatic priest, while his cohorts Ben, Sam and Rael construct a moving fortress, observatory and interdimensional vessel for him to stand on. They’re the kind of band that either make you proud to be curious, or will magnetize your brain into a state of curiosity. In effect, they’re the ‘Infinite Monkey Cage’ of British post-prog and we’re bloody lucky to have them.



 
Bristolian progressive-grunge rockers Lord Of Worms cite Meshuggah, Soundgarden, Tool and Ufomammut as influences, and there’s certainly some roiling springy punktone bass and restless post-hardcore rhythmic shifts in the mix. Their folk lilts and Zoie Green’s burnished-silver vocals simultaneously tie them into a tradition of female-fronted folk-rock acts like Renaissance and The Morrigan. Judge for yourselves…



 
Like Sanguine Hum, Dutch/American crossover prog poppers Fractal Mirror will be playing under reduced circumstances as regards personnel, but probably not in terms of the music. While the band can rely on the assistance of Echolyn polymath Brett Kull, among others, in the studio, this live date will just feature their core duo of singer/guitarist/keyboard and recorder player Leo Koperdraat and lyric-writing drummer Frank Urbaniak. Expect intimate expansions on their recipe of dove-soft Mellotronics and pastoral post-Porcupine Tree moods, with their hidden freight of darker, reflective lyrics.



 
Sonic Bond Promotions & The Epileptic Gibbon Podcast present:
EppyFest 7: North Sea Radio Orchestra + Gong + Neil Campbell + Sanguine Hum + Doris Brendel + Thumpermonkey + Lord Of Worms + Fractal Mirror
St Margaret’s Hall & Annex, Coniston Road, Hatherley, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, GL51 3NU, England
Friday 27th July 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here
Saturday 28th July 2018, 1.00pm – information here and here

* * * * * * * *

It would be stupid of me to represent EppyFest as some kind of absolute template for festivals. It’s its own little Gloucestershire gem, it has its context and its taste-palette, and while it’s a fine refresher there’s far more to contemporary music – to a nourishing cultural diet – than even a thoughtful slipped-weekend like this one can provide.

What I am advocating is a spreading of its care-filled cottage ethos; its preference for building a relatively equal, mutually supportive community of performers and audients in a warm and humble space, rather than driving a rush of drainable, soakable human cattle through the money-mill. Events like this are worth the seeking-out, worth the effort that goes into their creation. Go find some. Go make some. Come tell me about them.
 

July 2018 – upcoming rock gigs – A Sudden Burst of Colour, a-tota-so and Theo tear up The Facemelter (6th July); Heldon and Hirvikolari at Café Oto (14th July)

2 Jul

A quick boost for the heavy stuff at the Facemelter this week, and for an avant-rock return at Café Oto mid-month….

* * * * * * * *

The Facemelter: A Sudden Burst Of Colour + a-tota-so + Theo, 6th July 2018
“Hailing from Motherwell, Scotland, A Sudden Burst Of Colour captures fans of electronic, ambient, dance and rock music with their soundscapes and encapsulating songwriting. Their sound is bright, shimmering and generally uplifting. The instrumental quartet have four globally acclaimed EP releases under their belt, which is evidenced by features from ‘BBC Introducing’, ‘The Scotsman’, ‘Earmilk’ (USA), ‘Arctic Drones’ (Turkey), ‘Stereofox’ (Germany) and many more, so this is a good time to catch them before they break into the wider world. Their recent single ‘I Am The Storm’ was premiered on Daniel P. Carter’s BBC Radio 1 Rock Show and they’re currently in pre-production for their forthcoming album, which is due for release at the end of the year.”


 
Replacing Bristolian mathrockers Hoggs Bison (who, like Barringtone recently, have come down with a bad case of broken wrist) are “noisy math/grunge band a-tota-so (formed by members of Alright the Captain and Cheap Jazz), who we’ve been dying to put on for ages! In their short one-and-a-half-year existence, they’ve already toured the UK and Europe, shared the stage with Tera Melos, Tangled Hair, Alpha Male Tea Party, Chiyoda Ku, Memory of Elephants, VASA and many more, and played at ArcTanGent and StrangeForms Festival. After a successful crowdfunding campaign, the band recently recorded their debut album at Nice Weather For Airstrikes and Snug Recording Co. and are set to release it in September 2018.



 
“To open, there’s a rare appearance from soloist Theo (described as “an extraordinary maelstrom of soundscapes, loops, beats and power” by ‘Louder Than War), who creates layers of tight guitar melodies and riffs by looping them over and over again, before sitting down at his drum kit and smashing out some fantastic rhythms to them. The range of dynamics and changes he achieves, as well as his ability to make the entire piece a coherent tune from start to finish, is astonishing. We’ve seen him perform around the country, including at ArcTanGent and at our late night Facemelter with Poly-Math and EVILLOOKINGBIRD, so we’re glad to see him make a return.”


 
Chaos Theory Music Promotions presents:
The Facemelter: A Sudden Burst of Colour + a-tota-so + Theo
The Black Heart, 2-3 Greenland Place, Camden Town, London, NW1 0AP, England
Friday 6th July 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

* * * * * * * *

Heldon + Hirvikolari, 14th July 2018

The upcoming Heldon and Hirvikolari gig at Café Oto appears to be happily selling itself without my input, partially thanks to Heldon mainstay Richard Pinhas‘ reputation as “the French Robert Fripp”. If that’s a fair comparison (and Richard has readily acknowledged that “Fripp has always been my Hendrix”), he might not have King Crimson’s ability to fill larger theatres but he does seem to have a far less compromised reputation in avant-garde hubs like Oto – for one thing, you wouldn’t generally find Robert Fripp going head-to-head with members of The Boredoms. A former junior philosophy professor, he jumped the academic ship in 1974, inspired by his own comparisons between philosophers and rock stars (and by his own taste for science fiction) to form an electronic rock band with a trans-sonic bent. This was Heldon, one of the very first French bands to use synthesizers, and one which would subsequently fall under the spell of King Crimson, Fripp and Brian Eno and develop their own droning improvisatory rock forms.

While the band originally only lasted for the course of the 1970s, Heldon’s albums are currently being reissued by Bureau B: this year, an archive live album, ‘Live in Metz 77’, was released by Bam Balaam. All of which has prompted a return to live action by Richard under the Heldon name. This is their first London concert for literally decades: expect to see an excited anticipatory audience of prog/avant-rock fans of all ages.



 
Hirvikolari – modular synthesist Mike Bourne and processed-trumpet guy Sam Barton – are more often found being two-fifths of Teeth Of The Sea Last time round, I described them as follows: “while Teeth Of The Sea tend to play great stomping horror-slabs of musical architecture (a flying saucer spitting out rows and rows of heavily-armed tower blocks) Hirvikolari prefer to take the slow path and evolve themselves a great bolus of stewed electronic burble and resonating brass tracks. Ennio Morricone’s been cited as a comparison, as has the long tradition of counter-culture festival techno: both comparisons have some grounding.”

 
There’s about three handfuls-worth of tickets left: if you want to pluck them from the eager grip of Baba Yaga’s Hut, I’m sure they’d be all too willing to let you have your chance.

Baba Yaga’s Hut presents:
Heldon + Hirvikolari
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Saturday 14th July 2018, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here
 

October 2017 – upcoming English gigs – Holly Penfield chops and changes in London (18th October); Minute Taker’s multimedia love-and-ghosts story ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ in Glasgow, London & Brighton (15th, 21st, 22nd October); Cardiacs’ ‘Marenest’ fundraiser showing in Bristol with The Scaramanga Six (21st October); and something on Paul Diello

7 Oct

Holly Penfield presents:
‘Holly Penfield – Spooky Little Girl’
The Royal Vauxhall Tavern, 372 Kennington Lane, Vauxhall, London, SE11 5HY, England
Wednesday 18th October 2017, 8.00pm
– information here

Holly Penfield: 'Fragile Human Monster', 18th October 2017For a while, there, I was spun back. Twentysomething years ago, I was a regular at Holly Penfield‘s ‘Fragile Human Monster Show’ (having first caught her performance on a random Edinburgh night back in 1992). Ostensibly based around sleek ’80s synth’n’sequencer pop, her shows had a number of twists. More like ’70s songwriter confessionals, they stirred yearning jazz and blues strands back into a genre which had mostly eschewed them. Based around Holly, her Kurzweil keyboard and a saxophonist (usually her husband Ian Ritchie, who’s had a hand in everything from Scouse artniks Deaf School to the Roger Waters band and the ‘Lonely Planet’ theme), they also had a compelling and bizarre Californian theatrical edge which variously sat in your lap and purred, wailed over your head, broke down in front of you, or made you feel less alone – always in the same set.

If you can dig up Holly’s long-lost debut album ‘Full Grown Child‘ – a brash early ‘80s Chinnichap production – you’ll hear an Innuendo-strewn, pop-belting cross between Suzi Quatro, a bleach-blond Rizzo, ABBA and full-on coke-blizzard-era Stevie Nicks. ‘Fragile Human Monster’ was the fallout from all that: an onstage realisation of Holly’s independent followup ‘Parts Of My Privacy’, in which she and Ian went back to her bluesier and torchier San Francisco roots, merged it with Ian’s techno-pop skills and teased out a series of passionate, cracked paeans (plus jarring digressions into performance art) about fear, instability and how the lost rebuild their lives and make their way. Tremendously tuneful but at odds to the music biz, the ‘Fragile Human Monster Show’ was that rare thing: outsider music with genuine craft and skill. It was also pretty queer and culty, drawing a diverse squadron of waifs and strays of all stripes (including me) to Holly’s home venue on the Kilburn High Road. Eventually it wore Holly out: putting it to rest, but still hanging onto her stubborn kookiness, she applied her remarkable voice and stage presence to a new career as a jazz cabaret diva. She’s made, I think, just one revisitation to Monster territory since (which you can read about here).

Holly Penfield: 'Spooky Little Girl', 18th October 2017Late this summer, though, Holly announced that she was bringing the old show back for an evening in October, though she wasn’t clear about how she’d be doing it: perhaps reworked for the acoustic jazz band she’s used for the last couple of decades, or perhaps with her going it alone (with the Kurzweil and sequencers brought out of mothballs and will go it alone). At any rate, I thought I’d be going along – possibly in search of my own confused, similarly theatrical mid-twenties self, perhaps to see if I got along with him a little better.

However, everything was upended in early September following Holly’s jolting appearance in the auditions for ‘The X-Factor’. Ubercamp, leather-clad and singing Meredith Brooks’ Bitch, she went full-on nightclub and came on to Simon Cowell like a kinky Weimar nightmare with a riding crop. Inspired by the experience (and not a little miffed at the mocking edit that made it to TV) Holly’s now claiming that “the evil jazz cabaret performer in (me) has clawed its way to the surface”, and has morphed the October show into an upbeat Halloween “Spooky Little Girl” special (billed as “cabaret classics, spooktacular rocking favourites and self-penned songs as only our Diva can deliver them”).

I can’t help thinking that an opportunity’s been lost (or steamrollered) but I might show up anyway. She’s still promising to pepper all of the knowing cornballery with old FHM songs; several existing set standbys (such as Stay With Me, seen below in a torch-jazz arrangement from 2009) originated in the old show, and a new-ish piano/vocal song Confessions (posted up online a year ago) suggests a creative leaning back towards the old days of torch and bearing witness. Regardless of any of that, there’s still the voice; there’s still the onstage magnetism. Should be some sort of a blast.



 
* * * * * * * * *

Minute Taker: 'To Love Somebody Melancholy' (live show)Also during the midmonth, acclaimed LBTQ folktronicist Minute Taker (aka Ben McGarvey) takes his multimedia show ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ out on tour in England and Scotland. I missed the news about his summer tour (which spiralled out from his homebase of Manchester, taking in Oldham, Chorlton and the Didsbury Art Festival plus a trans-Pennine appearance at Hebden Bridge) but managed to catch the news about his autumn followups in Glasgow, Brighton and London (including an appearance at the seventeenth century “actor’s church”, St Pauls in Covent Garden). Here’s the story:

“Singer-songwriter Minute Taker and BFI award-winning animation artist Ana Stefaniak have created a haunting, modern fable told through projected film and an epic live band performance of Minute Taker’s upcoming album… Expect to be immersed in a dark and magical world of strange animated characters and piano songs brimming with ethereal harmonies, fizzing synthesisers and orchestral twists.

“In ancient Greek philosophy Aristotle first popularised the notion that artists, poets and writers were of a melancholic disposition. In the middle ages melancholics were thought to be possessed by demons if they could not be “cured” of their depressive tendencies. Set on a desolate seashore, ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ explores the notion of the archetypal artist as he journeys through the euphoric highs and the self-destructive lows of his creative cycles. A new romantic relationship brings the artist the contentment he craves but it soon becomes apparent that there’s something else lurking in the shadows; a ghostly, shapeshifting third entity whose form is entirely dependent upon the artist’s current mindset. Sometimes a saviour, a source of inspiration and hope, sometimes a savage, ruthlessly determined on driving his lover away.”


 
Ben comments “one of my biggest influences when creating ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ was Kate Bush’s masterpiece ‘The Ninth Wave’. Such a wonderfully magical, otherworldly and at times frightening journey into the unknown. I never tire of going on this adventure with her. Come join our own dark adventure, inspired by Kate’s.”

Dates:

  • Websters Theatre, 416 Great Western Road, Woodlands, Glasgow, G4 9HZ, Scotland, Sunday 15th October 2017, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • St Paul’s Church, 29 Bedford St, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9ED, London, England, Saturday 21st October 2017, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Latest Music Bar, 14-17 Manchester Street, Brighton, BN2 1TF, England, Sunday 22nd October 2017, 7.30pm (with Paul Diello) – information here

Additional support comes in Brighton comes from the award-winning “pop/folk/fabulous” singer-songwriter Paul Diello, who recently wowed the Brighton Fringe Festival with a sold out run of five-star-review shows and who promises “a special set of songs” for the occasion. Citing Madonna, Bowie, Kate Bush and Anohni as inspirations, Paul is an increasingly powerful artistic presence in the LGBT underground, operating in the febrile interface between cabaret, chart pop, queerness and visual staging (in particular, via video). Provocative and insidious, with an ear for the brazen tunes of ‘80s synthpop, Paul reminds me of a tougher Marc Almond – albeit with the sturdy physique of a dockside bouncer – while his songs are sharp confections of fists, flowers and standing your ground.


 
* * * * * * * *

Kate Bush seems to have become a recurring presence in this thread. Perhaps I’m alone in this, but I’ve always drawn a vague connecting line between ‘The Ninth Wave’ and Cardiacs’ 1989 album ‘On Land And In The Sea’.

Despite their common south London roots and the bare three years between them, there doesn’t initially seem to be much linking Bush’s silky-petalled Fairlight-driven art pop with the shrill, switchbacking, horns-and-artpunk firepower of Cardiacs, let alone their urchin squawks versus her sensual coo (though I’d have loved to have heard them cover each other). Dipping beneath the surface, however, reveals plenty to unite the two work. There’s the common and commonly transmogrified debt to English prog (in the structural ambition, the little flourishes of grandeur, and the enthusiastic mining of everything from twinkling tunes to violent psychedelic riffs, looming synth orchestration to jigs and jittering dreamscapes). There’s the common immersive marine motif – even when the sea’s banished from the foreground, it’s always present to embrace, propel, threaten or dissolve the bobbing characters within the songs. And although ‘The Ninth Wave’ centres pretty clearly on the near-death experience and night journey of a single castaway, while ‘On Land…’ zig-zags crazily over suburbs, shorelines, skies and inlets while weaving through multiple blurred perspectives (from the individual to that of a kind of profoundly skewed post-war national consciousness) in both works a half-sleeping, half-waking British mythology gets forked up and worked over anew, with a relentless filmic curiosity.


 

‘On Land And In The Sea’ provided most of the songs played in Cardiacs’ 1990 concert film ‘Marenest’, which brings its own chaotic theatrics to a fundraiser showing in Bristol. Live support comes from brutally grand, macabre Yorkshire rockers The Scaramanga Six, bringing a punchy live set based in part on their new crowdfunded ‘Chaotica’ album.

If ‘On Land…’ really was intended as some kind of concept album, it hid the fact under a typically Cardiacs welter of invention and disinformation. In contrast, ‘Chaotica’ wears its conceptual heart on a stained sleeve – the Scaramangas have been pretty open about its roots in “an abstract story roughly hewn from a concept of a dystopian island society. A place where everything has fallen into ruin, yet people still seem to have the same preoccupation with the trivial crap they had before. The population trudge through a chaotic existence on top of each other with absolutely no hope of a better life. Society is reduced to its base behaviour yet people still crave superficial fixes. The human condition carries on regardless. There is no outcome, no lessons to be learned. Familiar?” ‘Chaotica’ might not quite be a Brexit ‘Quadrophenia’, but it’s clearly leaning that way.


 
As is generally the rule with Cardiacs-related events these days, all profits on the day (including bonus donations by bucket or booking-stage gifting) are going to fund the care of Cardiacs’ driving force Tim Smith as he continues to battle against the aftermath of heart attacks and stroke. Note that the venue is quite hard to find, hidden as it is away behind the rubbish bins in a nondescript Bristol car park. Some Cardiacs fans would claim that this is only appropriate.

‘Maresnest’: Tim Smith Benefit with The Scaramanga Six
Cube Microplex, Dove Street South (off top-left of King Square), Kingsdown, Bristol, BS2 8JD, England
Saturday 21st October 2017, 7.00pm
information
 

October 2017 – upcoming London gigs – heavy art rock with Thumpermonkey, The Fierce & The Dead and Ham Legion; another Society of Imaginary Friends Soiree with Beth Jones, WondRwomN and others (both 6th October)

1 Oct

A couple of London choices for this Friday…

* * * * * * * *

Thumpermonkey + The Fierce & The Dead + Ham Legion, 6th October 2017

Chaos Theory Promotions presents:
The Facemelter: Thumpermonkey + The Fierce & The Dead + Ham Legion
The Black Heart, 2-3 Greenland Place, Camden Town, London, NW1 0AP, England
Friday 6th October 2017, 7.30pm
– information here and here

There’s still a few grab-’em-while-you-can tickets for this friendly clash between these three varied exemplars of British art rock. I keep posting odds and ends about them and always fear running out of something new to say, but here goes…

Described, this time out, as a “merry band of loony pronk heroes”, Thumpermonkey are better pegged as arch New Weird rockers, or as geeks-made-good. Bright, sharp, literate tale-tellers and brain-twisting scenarists, they roll out blistering tales and portraits of strange perspectives and stranger goings on festooned in kinked, scree-slipping riffs and grand declamatory vocals with an ever-present tinge of dark laughter. Unpicking the puzzlebox machinery of a typical Thumpermonkey song is a route to mingled glee and frustration, since singer, lyricist and concept director Michael Woodman packs in tight multi-dimensional digressions and inferences with the skill of a master.

This gig is a launch party for Thumpermonkey’s new EP ‘Electricity‘, inspired by “the luminous magnificence of human foolishness” and the story of “Victorian MP and visionary Lord James Badger… atomized by technology he hoped would transform the canals of the Euphrates, all because he followed the instructions of an angelic visitation.” The particular genius of Thumpermonkey is that they can unroll these kind of parodic slipstream plots without ever toppling into cute whimsy. If you’re looking for the missing link between Mastodon, Zappa, China Miéville, Van der Graaf Generator, Alejandro Jodorowsky and the harder end of the Mighty Boosh (and God knows that if you’re looking for something like that, you’re pretty specific), you’ll find it here. Clever bastards.


 

Currently riding along on the scaly back of their recent live album ‘Field Recordings’, The Fierce & The Dead are heading towards their seventh year as an imposing, boundary-squatting instrumental rock band, forcibly blending post-hardcore, instrumental prog, post-punk immediacy and experimental noise. Despite their music being sweetened by the inclusion of tuneful loop-guitar honeybear Matt Stevens in the lineup, they sport a brutal, angular, drawer-popping rifftastic sound which variously resembles Led Zeppelin and Black Flag simultaneously shaking down a post-rock band, a hotel kitchen getting a forcible mid-meal remodelling by Archaos, or a carhenge attempting to twerk along to highlife. Have a listen to Dancing Robots below for a dose of their live crunch and down-to-earth banter – or, if you prefer, there’s a free Bandcamp download sampler available.


 
Intermittently active Brightonian trio Ham Legion will open the show with a set of their cramped, restless heavy art-pop, matching the other two bands blurt-for-blurt and switch-for-switch.


 
* * * * * * * *

If all of the above is not for you – or if your Friday funds only stretch to a Tube journey and a drink – cabaret art-poppers Society of Imaginary Friends are putting on another free soiree in Wood Green (see passim). As ever, there’s a theme and a new bit of performance art jiggery-pokery from the Society themselves.

Society of Imaginary Friends Soiree, 6th October 2017

Society Of Imaginary Friends present:
Society of Imaginary Friends Soiree: “It’s Our Home County Amateur Dramatic Class Soiree” (featuring Society Of Imaginary Friends + Beth Jones + WondRwomN + Martin Wakefield + Cian Binchy + Lord Buckley + Ted Sawyer/Frank Frenzy DJ sets)
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Friday 6th October 2017, 8.00pm – free event
information

“From Tring to Crawley, Amersham to Reigate, the dusky Downs resound to the sound of dramatis personae… for this is the time of preparation… the drawing-in of the nights can mean only one thing to these outcasts… Panto season is approaching.

“Our October Soiree is dedicated to London’s cultural refugees who dwell beyond the M25 where things are quite different… in a quiet cul-de-sac of the mind they float… there is no music other than ’80s power-synth ballads or Gary Numan… the Am Dram village hall is at the centre of the Home Counties mock-Tudor universe… As a mark of deep respect for this tradition, Society of Imaginary Friends will be performing the premiere of their ‘Home Counties’ song cycle featuring their cosy pub classic Please Put That Hammer Away and It’s My Home Counties Amateur Dramatic Class.”

Also on the bill is the usual swirl of other words and music – bluesy singer-songwriter Beth Jones ; poet/raconteurs Martin Wakefield and Cian Binchy, emerging Tottenham groove goddess WondRWomN with a cocktail of psychedelic soul, funk, rap and “grit pop”; and the “deranged and strange” Lord Buckley (presumably a tribute act to the hipsemantic beat standup from the 1950s, unless SOIF have mastered necromancy this year and brought us back the real thing). There’s also a double DJ helping from Ted Sawyer (Northern Soul) and Frank Frenzy (that 1980s power disco sound mentioned earlier) plus Karamel’s usual prizewinning vegan food (this time “reimagining the ’70s classics like prawn cocktail and Boeuf Bourguignon as a death free feast”).

See below for the Society’s poperatic tribute to social media, a harmonica-laden song about infidelity from Beth, and a couple of drum-and-‘bone-assisted joints from WondRwomN…


 

April/May 2017 – upcoming London gigs – across-the-board instrumental progressive – Flies Are Spies From Hell + A-Sun Amissa + Only Echoes Remain (7th); Piko Cloud Booker + Mein Haus + Matt Baber of Sanguine Hum (April 20th); Mouse On The Keys + Mutiny On The Bounty + Strobes (May 1st)

30 Mar

Three upcoming London gigs across April and leading into the start of May: all of them batting around ideas in the progressive field, whichever particular road they took into it. In early April – a Chaos Theory post-rock show with three bands offering successive palettes of solitary guitar sketches, sombre filmic post-Godspeed tonescapes, and bright-toned romantic futurism. In mid-April – the debut of a brand new progtronic trio alongside an experimental string duo and a humble keyboard star. On May Day, an international rhythmatic threesome at Rich Mix mixing up post-Squarepusher tech-fusion, bursting guitar instrumentals and twenty-first century dual-keyboard/drumkit jazz-rock barrage.

* * * * * * * *

Flies Are Spies From Hell + A-Sun Amissa + Only Echoes Remain, 7th April 2017

Chaos Theory Promotions presents:
The Facemelter: Flies Are Spies From Hell + A-Sun Amissa + Only Echoes Remain
The Black Heart, 2-3 Greenland Place, Camden Town, London, NW1 0AP, England
Friday 7th April 7.30pm
information and here

“This month The Facemelter features a glorious night with some truly brilliant veterans of post-rock, drone and ambient sounds, with new and seasoned projects alike.

“Formed thirteen years ago, Flies are Spies from Hell have climbed up from humble beginnings to international fame. The years have seen them move on from small local gigs, to sharing the stage with behemoths such as Russian Circles, And So I Watch You From Afar, *shels, Latitudes and Vessels, to a couple of European tours, and appearances at ArcTanGent and Dunk!festival. Two years after the release of their second album ‘Underdog Underfoot’, they’ll finally grace the stage at The Facemelter.


 
A-Sun Amissa are a powerful (mostly) instrumental collective possessed of “a rusted industrial aesthetic that lurks in the periphery of perception” (‘Rock-A-Rolla’), founded and led by Richard Knox (Shield Patterns, Glissando, The Rustle of the Stars) and Angela Chan (Tomorrow We Sail, Lanterns On The Lake, The Rustle of the Stars) that has featured an array of members and collaborators since its formation in 2011, as well as two albums out on Gizeh Records.

“Producing dense, drone-like atmospheres with evocative, melodic string and woodwind sections, intertwining guitars and field recordings, their live performance is a mixture of recorded output combined with improvisation to explore progressions in the music every time. Their ever-flowing lineup of collaborators have included members of Amenra, Nadja, Gnod, Oiseaux-Tempête and Hundred Year Old Man.


 
Only Echoes Remain serve up incredibly cinematic post-rock, without becoming too cliched thanks to generous smatterings of math, ambient and classic prog influences. They have already played with the likes of Her name Is Calla, TOTORRO, VASA, Poly-Math and Waking Aida, and will be releasing their debut LP early this year.”


 
* * * * * * * *

Piko Cloud Booker + Mein Haus + Matt Baber, 20th April 2017

Piko Cloud Booker present:
Piko Cloud Booker + Mein Haus + Matt Baber
Paper Dress Vintage Bar & Boutique, 352a Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HR, England
Thursday 20 April 2017, 7.00pm
information

Piko Cloud Booker are a modern-day progressive rock trio combining King Crimson-esque cyclical guitar patterns in a mix-up of wacky time signatures with the expansive sequencer-driven explorations of early Tangerine Dream. PCB are guitarist Cameron Piko (mastermind of Australian prog-metal unit Montresor), bassist/violinist Gaz Cloud (one half of dream-technoists Cloud & Owl) and drummer Andrew Booker (no-man, Tim Bowness, Sanguine Hum).”

(This project’s so new that’s there’s no music available to present for it – instead, I’ve had to give you a few ideas via these clips from the member’s other projects, including Andrew’s ten years of undersung work with jamming collective Improvizone:)




 
“Supporting them will be string duo Mein Haus, consisting of Patricia Stepien (violin) and Elliot Murphy (cello, guitar). Their music is by turns creepy and sparse, then intense and dramatic. But whether it’s complex rhythmic interplay, or crunching cello and soaring violin, you feel the humour is never far away. From gigsite ‘Go Out Of Tune‘ – “based in East London but hailing from Poland and Ireland originally, they’ve been making music together since they met on a train in Deptford over a year ago. Their performances are high in energy and musically unpredictable. Their music has been described as: ‘Shostakovich and Arvo Part being kicked down a flight of stairs in an oil barrel’, with influences ranging from the Sex Pistols through Penderecki, Battles and Kraftwerk.”


 
Matt Baber is a co-founding half of the continuing Oxford-based musical journey that is currently Sanguine Hum, having made its way through various earlier incarnations. He has played keyboards throughout, both crafting his unique synth atmospheres plus stamping down complex piano riffs on his Fender Rhodes. Expect more of the latter this time, as he delves into his Jarrett/Emerson-flavoured solo material for his first ever solo keyboard show.”


 
Note that Gaz Cloud – as half of Cloud & Owl – will also be playing this Askarabaskara techno/house gig five days earlier, demonstrating part of the elements-puzzle which makes up his new band.

* * * * * * * *

Mouse On The Keys + Mutiny On The Bounty + Strobes, 1st May 2017Chaos Theory Promotions presents:
Mouse On The Keys + Mutiny On The Bounty + Strobes
Rich Mix, 35-47 Bethnal Green Road, Shoreditch, London, E1 6LA, England
Monday 1st May 2017, 7.30pm
-information here, here and here

“An ultrasonic mammoth of a lineup, packed with dreamlike jazz, vast math rock, ambient precision and mesmerising polyrhythmic beats!

“The extraordinary Mouse On The Keys trio are back from Japan, armed with fresh material from their new album ‘Out Of Body’, out last January via Topshelf Records. This is a pristine example of blending minimal-phrased piano and dynamic drumming, while creating a live experience composed of visual and audio elements. Formed in 2006, with elements of jazz, funk, post‐rock and electronic music, Mouse On The Keys fits into a genre of their own.

“The trio consists of two former members of the influential Japanese underground band Nine Days Wonder – Akira Kawasaki and Atsushi Kiyota – who teamed up with Daisuke Niitome (who has played drums as well as composed music for countless jazz‐funk and hip hop bands). Their unique sound, comprising two pianos, two keyboards and drums, continues to stand at the forefront of the Japanese music scene.


 
“Luxembourg quartet Mutiny On The Bounty bring a torrent of groovy rhythms, guitar acrobatics and joyous melodies our way. These guys have been showcasing their unique brand of math-rock and instrumental music throughout Europe and have played close to five hundred shows supporting bands such as Biffy Clyro, And So I Watch You From Afar, TTNG and Maps & Atlases as well as playing some of the biggest festivals like Roskilde, Primavera and Fusion festival.

“Following on from their album ‘Trials’, released in 2012 and recorded by producer Matt Bayles, Mutiny On The Bounty released their latest album ‘Digital Tropics’ via Small Pond, which encompasses facets of their personalities ranging from rock, to electro, 80’s pop and even hip-hop. A reverb-infused, pop groove-laden feast of staccato guitar melodies, loops and math rock beats.


 
Strobes‘ triangle of electrified polyrhythms, spaced-out synth jams and off-kilter beats will open the evening. Featuring guitar and synth-work by Matt Calvert (Three Trapped Tigers), drums by Joshua Backmore (Troyka) and keys by Dan Nicholls (who has collaborated with Squarepusher and Matthew Herbert), the trio flickers effortlessly between the worlds of electro-improv, minimalist polyrhythm and distinctively original hooks.

“Like a twisted love child of Aphex Twin, Brainfeeder and Battles, Strobes have been heard individually with the likes of Squarepusher, Matthew Herbert and Three Trapped Tigers. Built from collective composition, studio production, live sampling and improv jams, the band smashes out exhilarating odd-tempo loops, polyphonic synth soundscapes and big headnodding beats. Their new album ‘Brokespeak’, out via Blood And Biscuits, is a true work of genius.


 
“With DJ sets from Bojan Nikolic (The Brain Center At Whipple’s, Battleship Grey), this will be an intensely satisfying feast of jawdropping talent and headnodding beats.”

 

November 2016 – upcoming gigs – The Scaramanga Six in Winchester and London (5th, 12th) with A Formal Horse, The Bitch, The Fiascos and Zen Motel

2 Nov

Following a period spent spawning, recording, dispersing around the country, essaying the odd solo gig or micro-festival appearance, and carrying out whatever grim and murky business keeps them afloat in between shows and records, the various members of The Scaramanga Six have reconvened for a couple of autumn dates in southern England.

The Scaramanga Six, 2016

Still stubbornly insisting on being a quartet (one which won’t refund a third of your ticket price, so don’t ask) and still possessed of the most ferocious fraternal-twin-brother glower since the heyday of the Kray brothers, the Six continue to mine a rich and rewarding seam of murky kitchen-sink rock drama: like a small belligerent family of pub singers who’ve rushed the stage, mugged the house band and grabbed the mike in order to settle a few scores and tell a few hard tales in public. With Tony Bennett, The Cramps, The Stranglers, Cardiacs and Pixies amongst their crowd of musical influences (the sartorial ones include Moss Bros funeral directors, glam rock queens, small town wide boys and absinthe dandies), they’re still toting around last year’s album ‘The Terrifying Dream’, a collection of songs based on skull-rattling nightmares (some of which may not have anything to do with being asleep).



 

I’ve always liked the Six, right for the time I first encountered them and got the opportunity to dub them one of the country’s “most timely” rock bands – expressing inflated smalltown-British bile and huff with better tunes than anyone else. Fourteen years later, you’d have thought that they’d have lost that particular title; and it’s true that their ebullient theatricality has allowed them to sidestep strict reality any time they like. (As far as being state-of-the-nation signifiers goes, they were always more ‘League of Gentlemen’ than ‘This is England’.) But as long as there’s a supply of twisted romantics with alarming habits, touchy self-deluders going off the rails, and sinister broody men as likely to harm themselves as much as others, the Scaramanga Six will have material to juggle with and ram home; and whenever it runs short, they’ll fill the gaps with bullish tales of self-reliance in adversity (who says their Yorkshire base hasn’t rubbed off on them?) or one of bass-player Steve’s gonzo rockabilly bawl-alongs. God knows what they’re making of the poisonous post-Brexit seethe. It’ll probably provide them with enough inspiration for a double album.

  • The Barn @ The Railway Inn, 3 St. Pauls Hill, Winchester
    SO22 5AE, England, Saturday 5th November 2016, 8.00pm
    (with A Formal Horse + The Bitch) – information here and here
  • Pure Rawk @ The Black Heart, 2-3 Greenland Place, Camden Town, London, NW1 0AP, England, Saturday 12th November 2016, 7.00pm (with The Fiascos + Zen Motel) – information here and here

The two shows this month bounce off different aspects and intimations of the Six. At Winchester the emphasis seems to be on art rock. The main support coming from sparkly Southampton band A Formal Horse, whose continually flexing music tosses math and prog ideas around under Hayley McDonnell’s crystal clear folk voice, a bounding conceptual glitterball. I couldn’t find out anything about the other support band, The Bitch, but with a name like that it’s unlikely that they’ll be playing detailed chamber-folk or be led by a woman with a concert harp (although, on second thoughts, it would be wonderful if they were…)


 
In contrast, the London show and supports – courtesy of promoter Pure Rawwk – are absolute Sunset Strippery. The Fiascos describe themselves, variously as “filthy punk rock’n’roll from The Cronx, south London”, “Motörhead in a sweet shop” and “Social Distortion playing to get out of jail. They feature former members of Spizzenergi and the Brijitte West band, plus ubiquitous go-to-drummer Robin Guy (the onetime Rachel Stamp/Sack Tricker who’s filled in for everyone from Sham 69 to Rancid, Faith No More and The Bay City Rollers). Gleefully trashy and explosive Essex hard-rockers Zen Motel (pals with the Wildhearts) open the show with a rare acoustic set.



 
In both cases, the Six are likely to be glowering at the top of the bill and bringing the weight; like elder brothers, or dangerous uncles.
 

September 2016 – upcoming London gigs – ANTA + Lords Of Bastard + Thumpermonkey at the Black Heart (2nd)

28 Aug

Here’s very quick news on another psychedelic, proggy, metallic Facemelter show in London at the end of the week… Since I’m in a hurry, all rushing, enthusiastic verbiage below is courtesy of Chaos Theory…

Facemelter, 2nd September 2016
Chaos Theory Promotions presents:
The Facemelter: ANTA + Lords Of Bastard + Thumpermonkey
The Black Heart, 2-3 Greenland Place, Camden Town, London, NW1 0AP, England
Friday 2nd September 2016,
– information here and here

“A fantastic lineup for fans of modern and classic prog, with ’70s psychedelic twists, off-kilter melodies, seriously heavy bass, stoner rock riffs and heavy organ sounds.

ANTA are a truly thunderous modern prog band, driven by heavy organ and bass sounds, vast soundscapes calling back to classic 70’s progressive rock, yet maintaining a distinctly modern sound that remains very much their own. We’ve been fans for many years, having seen them perform crushingly heavy sets at gigs in London and at ArcTanGent, and they’ve shared the stage with legends such as Mugstar, Trans Am, Chrome Hoof, Thought Forms and Bardo Pond. We continue to play their extraordinary albums ‘Centurionaut’ and ‘The Tree That Bears The Equine Fruit’ to this day, but they serve only as a reminder of the velvetine cosmic textures delivered as a hammer blow to the soul that ANTA are capable of when in front of you on stage. A genuine experience and we can’t wait to hear some new material that they’re recording as we speak…


 
Lords Of Bastard are a four-piece heavy psychedelic rock band from Edinburgh, most recently described as “out of the box, out of your mind, psychedelic stoner sludge” as well as “Scottish”. Following the global success of their 2nd album, ‘Cuddles’ in 2012, they released an EP entitled ‘I’m Fun’ last year, to international rapture. As writing new material for their next album is going so well, they’re taking a break to travel down and play for you southerners.


 
Thumpermonkey are a hugely acclaimed band who’ve spent years arguing between themselves about whether to play prog, punk or art-rock, and never seem to have quite settled. After a hugely successful show with them supporting The Display Team during their album launch, we are super uber mega stoked to have them grace the stage of The Facemelter.


 
“We’ve been waiting a long time to get these people down to The Facemelter, and their live shows are rare, so this is a great chance to catch all three bands together in a spectacular show.”

There’s more on ANTA and on Thumpermonkey elsewhere on the blog…
 

April 2016 – upcoming gigs – math-rock with Poly-Math, Theo & evillookingbird at Chaos Theory’s Facemelter; a LUME jazz evening with the Dave Kane Quartet and a Corey Mwamba/Cath Roberts/Olie Brice trio

30 Mar

If you’re quick on your feet between Brixton and Shoreditch this coming Saturday, you could catch the following Facemelter gig just after the hip hop show mentioned in the last post… As with said last post, I’m rushed and just regurgitating promoter blurb this time – sorry about that…

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Chaos Theory presents:
The Facemelter: Poly-Math + Theo + evillookingbird
The Old Blue Last, 38 Great Eastern Street, Shoreditch, London, EC2A 3ES, England
Saturday 2 April 2016, 10.30pm
– free event – more information

“It’s a no-brainer really – a late-night, free entry math-rock party.

Poly-Math + Theo + evillookingbird @ The Facemelter, 2nd April 2016

“Brighton band Poly-Math are an absolute belter of a trio, who have mastered walking the line between complex polyrhythmic math rock and head-noddingly bouncy riffs. In only few short years, they’ve independently amassed a huge following across Europe’s prog and math rock scenes with the release of a few blindingly good early singles, hugely anticipated debut EP ‘Reptiles’, and some carefully chosen gigs, including an early slot at the first ever ArcTanGent, where we discovered them by accident. With new mini-album ‘Melencolia‘ coming out soon via Superstar Destroyer Records, we can expect some new sounds from the Brighton trio.

Theo is a one-man riff factory, known for setting up in the middle of the audience, laying down incredible math rock guitar riffs and looping them on top of each other, before sitting down at his drum kit and banging out some incredible rhythms. The fact that he manages to do this, create extraordinary dynamic changes, crescendos and down-tempo sections, while never letting the pace slack too much, explains why his name has rippled across the underground math rock scene all over Europe.

evillookingbird are an instrumental project from Belgium, who combine classical music, post-rock, noise and psych, to end up sounding a bit like Mogwai, Chopin and Battles are all fighting over the keys. This may be their first trip out of their home country, but evillookingbird are no stranger to familiar names in the European math rock scene, having supported the likes of Alright The Captain, Bear Makes Ninja, Mannheim, Hibagon, Celestial Wolves and more, as well as having been asked to perform at one of Europe’s biggest street festivals Gentse Feesten. They’ll be heading into the studio to record some new material, which we’ll get to hear at the show, but check out their EP ‘Labyrinth’ for now.

“Afterwards Chaos Theory curator Kunal will DJ post-hardcore and math rock riffs, and Chaos Theory photographer Magda will DJ classic rock, power ballads, and anything you’ll love dancing to after a few beers at 3am.”

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LUME presents:
Dave Kane Quartet + Corey Mwamba/Cath Roberts/Olie Brice
The Vortex Jazz Club, 11 Gillett Square, Dalston, London, N16 8AZ, England
Sunday 3rd April 2016, 7.30pm
– more information here and here

Dave Kane, 2016“The Dave Kane Quartet – Dave Kane (double bass), James Allsopp (saxophones and clarinet), Alex Bonney (trumpet) and Joost Hendrickx (drums) – will be playing music from their forthcoming album, to be released on Two Rivers Records later this year.

“Dave says ‘This music is my own personal reflection and dedication to the jazz lineage, all of the music that I have listened to and the music that has influenced me the most. Each track on the record is a dedication to a composer/person that has influenced me greatly throughout my career. There are tracks dedicated to the following people: Charles Mingus, John Zorn, Hamid Drake, Eric Dolphy and Henry Threadgill. For me “the jazz lineage” means the records that are in my collection… my own personal lineage to the tradition, and my resulting music as a composer influenced and shaped by the music. Most people think of the jazz tradition as jazz standards, etc. This is not what I do, or what I am interested in. I have always listened to more adventurous composers & musicians who always pushed the music forward. This is what I have achieved with my new record. Although this music is still on the contemporary/avant garde side of jazz… I would say it is some of the most accessible music I have ever written.’

“The improvising trio of Corey Mwamba (vibraphone), Cath Roberts (baritone saxophone) and Olie Brice (double bass) first played together in 2014, bringing together three musicians active on the UK jazz and improvised music scene. Olie Brice leads his own quartet as well as playing in numerous other collaborations including a trio with Toby Delius and Mark Sanders; BABs with Alex Bonney and James Allsopp; Nick Malcolm Quartet; Loz Speyer’s Inner Space Music; and Alex Ward Quintet/Sextet. Cath Roberts leads two groups playing her compositions, Sloth Racket and Quadraceratops, as well as writing and improvising new music with guitarist Anton Hunter as Ripsaw Catfish. She is a member of the Madwort Sax Quartet, Anton Hunter’s Article XI, the eight-piece improvising saxophone group Saxoctopus and the collaborative quartet Word Of Moth. Corey Mwamba leads his own trio, Yana, and is involved in a variety of other groups including Sonsale; duos with Rachel Musson, Orphy Robinson and Robert Mitchell; Martin Archer’s large ensemble Engine Room Favourites; and Nat Birchall’s quintet. He is recognised as a highly creative improviser and composer working across a wide range of jazz and contemporary music, as well as a programmer of forward-looking music in his home city of Derby.”

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More shortly on the upcoming Gnod weekender – or on anything else that flits across my radar.

March 2016 – upcoming gigs – London murk and sarcasm – an industry-baiting evening of 30-second songs by the Pocket Gods and mystery buddies; plus noise rock from Arabrot, Shitwife and Godzilla Black at Corsica Studios

15 Mar

Two London gigs for Thursday…

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Pocket Gods @ Zigfrid von Underbelly, 17th March 2016

The Pocket Gods (’30 Second Song Set’) + tbc
Zigfrid von Underbelly, 11 Hoxton Square, Hoxton, London, N1 6NU, England
Thursday 17th March 2016, 7.00pm
– free event – more information

Here’s the chirp – ”London lo-fi indie popsters The Pocket Gods play a free St Patrick’s Day gig in Hoxton, London to promote their groundbreaking album ‘100×30’ – which features one hundred songs, all of which are thirty seconds long and some of which will be featured. Free entry and some great support bands!“

Sweet, isn’t it?

Here’s the rest of the story.

‘100×30’ was released last December. It’s a sharp, timely yet self-mocking broadside aimed at the music industry as a whole, and also at the amorphous greed’n’gratification culture that’s gulping down what remains of it. Masterminding this collection of half-minute jabs are The Pocket Gods – shabby knowing masters of multiple styles, mix’n’matching shreds of chart pop, punk, synth-blurb, soggy psych and outright pisstakes (including Blur, and Dappy from N-Dubz). Sometimes they sound like a back-bedroom Zappa Band operating on cheapjack equipment from a small-town branch of Argos, and sometimes like a more eclectic Half Man Half Biscuit aiming more of their jokes at the towers of power.

Threaded through the whole album is a sense of indignation at the implosion of music as a workable career (“my royalty statement is a thing of wonder, and keeps me in a state of permanent hunger”) and the dismissal of artists who can no longer be counted as fresh and malleable meat. One lyric points out, with sardonic but righteous indignation, “I can write songs about anything, because I’ve lived a little longer”; and there’s quite a bit of moping about the prospect of a future which involves little more than making unwanted music on a laptop. Across the tracks, the subject matter paints a scathing, resolutely unimpressed picture of vulgarity and short-termisms. Songs attack the rent hikes which force music venue closures; lampoon the encroachment of multinational corporate interests into independent business (the entwinement of Orchard and Sony takes a pounding, which – since Orchard is releasing the album – is a particularly fanged move); and pour sarcasm onto side topics like the sorry parade of boss-pleasing reality-TV contestants, the cluelessness of A&R men and the ludicrous table prices at the Brits (apparent sideshows which point towards the bigger problem). The Gods even slag off laptop music and mount a harpsichord-driven assault on the memory of Steve Jobs. So much for the individual being independently empowered by technology.

With the proven flexibility of the Pocket Gods, it’s tempting to assume that the brace of performers elsewhere on the album are just pseudonyms. Not a bit of it. Some – including oddball pop mutterer Michael Panasuk and fuzz-guitar flourisher Brian Heywood – appear to be rogue film, television and library music composers. Two more are former chart stars (Owen Paul and Mungo Jerry’s Ray Dorset, each damn near unrecognisable).Some veer towards cabaret (the semi-genteel, character-vocalled acoustipop of The Low Countries) or sarky contrarian Scottish dolour (Bill Aitken). Others even sound like glossy successes in waiting, including power-popper Katy Thorn, gobby R&B-er Tricey R, immaculate faux-Californian rockers Dead Crow Road, countrified Elvis-alike Osborne Jones, twinkling white-boy hip hoppers Foxgrease and full-bore electropop drama queens Hands Of Industry. The burnished countrified chart-pop of Heywood Moore even sounds as if it could make a killing in the American Bible Belt (sweeping out of the same CCM radio playlists as the likes of Lexi Elisha – not bad for a band that’s actually from Dunstable). None of this seems to stop any of them from joining in. Some of them may be taking a long-delayed, heartfelt chomp at the hand that feeds so grudgingly, or refuses to feed at all; or which they see starving others, from audience to artist, both fiscally and spiritually.

Despite all of this justifiable resentment, it could all turn precious and self-righteous were it not for the jabs of anti-pomposity which the Gods and their friends turn in on themselves (the musician-skewering of ‘Small Town Musos’ and ‘Mac Book Ho’ made me laugh out loud, as did a song about the natural progression from ambitious Radio 1 listener to experienced Radio 2 couch-fogey). There are also the other moments – the flip side to the flipness – in which the half-minute song limit becomes a lesson in how much can be achieved in a short time. John Rowland’s plunderphonics and piano instrumentals; upROAR’s quick echo-laden harp passage, Orb collaborator Another Fine Day’s gorgeous burst of echo-soused kalimba; or when writer and narrator Michael Hingston (who’s already spent two tracks guesting with the Pocket Gods, bidding goodbye to the swelling ranks of closed-down London music venues in a hardbitten wise-barfly drawl) gently blows thirty seconds of tentative, unaccompanied saxophone.

Finally, there’s the persistent realist-absurdist wit of The Pocket Gods themselves – party hosts, project backbone and the only act formally confirmed as performing at the Hoxton gig on Thursday (yes, I was going to get back to that…) Come along to see who else makes it. Meanwhile, you can play through the whole album below; and even buy it (if you feel that that won’t somehow spoil either the joke or the protest).

 

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Baba Yaga’s Hut presents:
Arabrot + Shitwife + Godzilla Black
Corsica Studios, 4-5 Elephant Road, Elephant & Castle, London, SE17 1LB, England
Thursday 17th March 2016, 8.00pm
more information

Arabrot + Shitwife +Godzilla Black @ Baba Yaga's Hut, 17th March 2016Norwegian noise-rockers Arabrot have spent a decade and a half feeding classical, Biblical, existential and surreal tropes through a grand and gothic avant-rock mangle. As you can imagine from this, both their gigs and records have had an immediate raw-lifed, raw-liver feel to them, despite what ‘The Quietus’ describes as the band’s “velveteen grace”. More recently, group leader Kjetil Nernes spent two years recovering from throat cancer, during which he’s fought off and defeated encroaching death not just via hospital treatment and homestay but by hurling himself back into Arabrot recording and touring. Having admitted that the experience was “as close to real physical and psychological hell as you can go”, Kjetil has spun his reactions into Arabrot’s latest album, ‘The Gospel’, which is suffused with spectres of death, illness and his own defiance.

Shitwife have possibly the most discouraging band name in history – an evil grunt of a handle, a surly trucker’s growl of a monicker. We last encountered them in the listings for a Christmas gig, in which they were described as an “astonishingly brutal drums/laptop/electronics juggernaut fusing rave, death metal, noise and post-hardcore.” As far as I know, they’ve had no reason to mess with that formula in the intervening three months. Here’s a clip of them in action at a different gig last September (just a short walk away from ‘Misfit City’ HQ, not that I knew it) plus a more recent video showing laptop/keyscruncher Wayne Adams engaged in a painting session (and looking far sweeter than he ought to, given that his other band’s called Ladyscraper).


As I’ve said before, Godzilla Black seem to have made themselves into London noise-rock favourites while not actually having much to do with noise-rock at all. Most of the latter’s in the brawling muscle which they apply to their John-Barry-writes-for-Ruins-or-King-Crimson tunes; and in the garnish of hiss and fry lying on top of that muscle, adding a pitch and pinch of disintegration to their drums-and-horns pimp-roll. Otherwise what I’m hearing is spy-movie glamour all the way, albeit gone slightly weird: extra panicky descends and clangings, sax stranglebursts and sampler squeals. Brand new single ‘First Class Flesh’ sounds as if its about some kind of disassociative disorder: singer John McKenzie boggling, all glazed and juicy, about body parts but not actually about bodies (ending up neither sexy nor creepy, but away in a skewed and disfocussed branch-off of both).


 

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More March gig previews shortly…
 

March 2016 – upcoming gigs – heavy Norway via London By Norse (with Enslaved, Wardruna, Vulture Industries, Helheim and a special ambient Nordic-folk event at the Forge)

13 Mar

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned that I’d got a couple of upcoming and nationalistically-inclined gigs to consider. The first of these, a Cornish music celebration, was an easygoing patriot’s-cream-tea of an afternoon, opting to put fun ahead of political confrontation. The second of the events – the Norwegian three-day London music festival By Norse – raises tougher questions almost from the start. Buying into the idea of “harder music’s position as Norway`s most important cultural export” isn’t a problem, as long as your idea of culture embraces extreme varieties of heavy metal. (For plenty of us, it does.) Outside of the Scandinavian peninsula, however, it’s a little more challenging to be asked to buy into the concept of old Nordic traditions of pure native paganism, standing firm against the corruption of an imported and state-imposed Christianity.

The two main artists behind By Norse – both of whom do buy into all of the above – are Ivar Bjørnson (of extreme metallers Enslaved) and Einar Selvik (of dark-folk project Wardruna, who blend their post-heavy-metal ethos with the use of ancient Scandinavian historical instruments – including deer-hide frame drums, tail-hair lyres, and goat and lur horns – as well as sourcing sound from trees, rocks, water and pitch torches). Most of Ivar and Einar’s shared beliefs and preoccupations have come together in ‘Skuggsjá’, the conceptual song-suite which they’ve written together and which they’re performing as part of By Norse this week with a united Wardruna/Enslaved ensemble. As they themselves describe it, the work is “commissioned to commemorate – and castigate – the 200th anniversary of Norway’s constitution, which took place last year, the suite is a furious journey into the dark reaches of Norwegian history. A counterweight to the enshrining of Christianity as the national religion and a harsh light on the atrocities committed in its name, its white-knuckle journey through innumerable musical moods is also a reminder of the rich pagan culture that was lost as a result…. ‘Skuggsjá’ translates into ‘mirror’ or ‘reflection’ in the Norse language, and the piece not only contextualizes harder music’s role in Norwegian democracy, but also joins threads from the country’s ancient musical history…”

There’ll be more on ‘Skuggsjá’ a little further down, but the following Einar-and-Ivar event at Camden’s Forge is the By Norse aspect which first drew my own attention and interest (and which, as I post this, is down to the last few tickets):

London By Norse/Metal Hammer present:
Einar Selvik workshop (‘The Thoughts and Tools Behind Wardruna’) + Ivar Bjørnson’s BardSpec
The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, England
Friday 18th March 2016, 6.00pm
more information

Einar Selvik/BardSpec Workshop, 18th March 2016“At this Forge event, Einar Selvik will speak about his approach to Norse historical music and the extensive creative concept behind Wardruna’s ongoing ‘Runaljod’ trilogy as well as his approach and study of the runes and other Norse esoteric arts. He will demonstrate a selection of the oldest Nordic instruments, play fully acoustic Warduna music and there will be opportunities for questions from the audience.

“Ivar Bjørnson will also be performing as his immersive electro-ambient project The BardSpec, which features the set-up of Ivar, his computer, a few strings, plus a pedal or two (and sometimes a trapeze artist). The direction is dark, surprisingly rhythmic and hypnotic. Thematically, in both sound and concept, The BardSpec is about minimising – cutting away, subtracting and meditating upon the simplest essence of ‘things’; the single points, bones and salt particles, the basic elements and building blocks that make up the whole.”

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There’s some historical truth – not to mention dignity – in the neo-pagan position and in some of these neo-Viking rumblings. In times when more and more people are querying the long-standing cultural reflexes they live under – and becoming sceptical about the alleged benevolence of world-spanning systems – this is a local, specifically Norwegian example of pursuing a less industrialised identity. In Britain, music followers who’ve kept a long-term faith with the transformative cultural odyssey of Julian Cope (from beat pop to shamanism) are used to him rattling off tracts of anti-Christian Odinist rhetoric, exploring pagan ideas in song, and using them to raise questions about what British culture might be. In Norway, however, these matters are closer to their original home and bite a little deeper.

If you want to treat these ideas with proper respect, you need to unhook them from some of the more shadowy, ominous attitudes associated with Norwegian black metal during the 1990s, when (in spates of ferocious misanthropy and rejection of contemporary society) some of its adherents travelled from politically-motivated Christian church burnings to anti-outlander racism, death-cult derangements, hate-prejudice and even murders. Under certain conditions, this culture – with its core of masculine romanticism – can succumb to the erosive lapping of a vicious and half-disguised nihilism. This isn’t something unique to Norway or even to black metal culture. It’s something held in common with plenty of dissatisfied movements with cores of action-seeking males who overturn common laws in favour of a different, structured and self-empowering ethos regardless of a negative impact on others. Something which it also holds in common with belligerent nationalism.

As you’ve guessed by now, I’m sceptical… but I’m also inclined to give Einar and Ivar the benefit of the doubt. Despite their suggestions that unfavourable reviews or practical frustrations of their projects are the machinations of “Christian monks” (which might just be deadpan heavy-metal humour), their work seems to be rooted in an earnest, honourable and artistically committed place. Their dedication to their music (and their interest in how it evolves and how it draws on an interesting past, rather than continuously warming over a sterile present) is clear and evident, and they don’t appear to be motivated by smouldering surliness. Certainly there’s warrior rhetoric, and some battle lines declared; but all of it has been subsumed into music, engagement and open debate rather than hooded, ugly social violence. They might be interested in unravelling some aspects of the world as we know it, but constructively: not as a wanton teardown.

You could also, of course, argue that Einar and Ivar’s philosophical stances and their co-opting of history are mostly about building a brand: that the paganism and protest primarily constitute an art project and a commercial push. Approximately two-thirds of the music in the By Norse gigs features Ivar, and most of that is with Enslaved; suggesting in turn that perhaps (fanbase notwithstanding) this scene, its impetus and its artistic adherents are smaller in number than might be desired, especially when presenting a festival. Perhaps that’s true as well: but all art movements start relatively small, at which point enthusiasm and dedication matters, and integrity is measured by the consistency of the work.

With that in mind, I’m going to stop musing and just post details on the other By Norse concert dates – the ‘Skuggsjá’ performance and the three-night celebration of Enslaved’s career, from black metal beginnings to their current psych-eclectic form.

London By Norse/Metal Hammer present:

  • Enslaved 25 Night 1 – ‘…Of Frost And Fire’: Enslaved + Vulture Industries, The Dome, 2A Dartmouth Park Hill, Tufnell Park, London, N19 5QQ, England, Thursday 17th March 2016, 8.30pmmore information
  • Enslaved 25 Night 2 – ‘From The Runic Depths’: Enslaved + Helheim, The Underworld, 174 Camden High Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 0NE, England, Friday 18th March 2016, 8.30pmmore information
  • Enslaved 25 Night 3 – ‘Spinning Wheel Ritual’ show – Skuggsjá + Enslaved + Wardruna + Kristian “Gaahl” Espedal (art exhibition), The Coronet, 28 New Kent Road, Elephant & Castle, London, SE1 6TJ, England, Saturday 19th March 2016, 6.00pmmore information

Enslaved 25, night 1, 17th March 2016Regarding each night of Enslaved music, Ivar Bjørnson says “’…Of Frost And Fire’ represents the quintessence of Enslaved roots. From the legendary ‘Hordanes Land’ with its soundtrack-esque musical long players, via the vast geomythological canvases painted on ‘Vikingligr Veldi’; the revolutionary ‘Frost’ that lifted us out of the strict underground; and finally the odd pair – ‘Eld’, which pointed forward to a progressive future, and ‘Blodhemn’, where we had a last blowout of black metal tempos and inspiration. For anyone curious about where such an eclectic band like Enslaved came from, this will be a first-hand guided tour through the primeval landscapes that shaped us.

Enslaved 25, night 2, 18th March 2016“‘From The Runic Depths’ will explain the unlikely yet logical transition from then until now. From the nightmarish flirt with death and black on ‘Mardraum – Beyond The Within’; the spaced-out balancing act that is ‘Monumension’; the milestone and futuristic beacon ‘Below The Lights’; ‘Isa’, the second break for the band; and finally the refined prog-vs-extreme monument ‘Ruun’.

“‘Spinning Wheel Ritual’ is where the band wields together the dark roots with the psychedelic fabrics of the newer days – bringing to the surface the true potential of our songwriting and musical abilities. The focus is the same as it has always been – to bring to life our personal vision of whatever ‘good and meaningful music’ means to us, to create a vessel for atmosphere, deep association and simple enjoyment of music.”

Support on Night 1 comes from introspective Bergen progressive black metal band Vulture Industries, who describe their work as “dark, heavy rock vistas bent and twisted into living entities embodying the width and breadth of human emotion.” Support on the second date is by Helheim whose Viking black metal draws heavily on Norse mythology. On the third night, Wardruna will be performing a set of their own, making their second-ever appearance in the UK following an acclaimed Southbank Centre gig back in autumn 2013.

Enslaved 25, night 3, 19th March 2016The last part of the third-night show will be a performance of ‘Skuggsjá’ featuring all members of both Enslaved and Wardruna, plus visuals by reknowned extreme metal artist Costin Chioreanu (who’s previously collaborated with At The Gates, Mayhem, Darkthrone, Arcturus among others). This will be only the third performance of the piece to date, following its September 2014 premiere at the Eidsivablot festival at Eidsvoll (where the constitution was originally written) and its subsequent performance at the Roadburn Festival earlier this year.

It will also be a release celebration for the release of the ‘Skuggsjá’ album on Season Of Mist Records, which came out the previous week (on 11th March).

* * * * * * * *

One more thing. As you’ve read, another aspect of that final show will be an exhibition of artwork by Kristian “Gaahl” Espedal, the former Gorgoroth/current God Seed frontman who’s also a Wardruna studio member. Historically, Gaahl has been one of the more controversial figures in Scandinavian extreme metal: when at home, he’s even transcended the public anonymity of the metal scene to become an occasional tabloid bogeyman. It’s certainly true that he’s come on an interesting, turbulent and confrontational journey.

For part of the picture, you’re advised to check out some of his more unpleasant mid-‘90s pronouncements on race (here and here) – you don’t have to be a Christian, or even particularly staid and self-righteous, to find this stuff alarming. Set against this is the much more easygoing way in which Gaahl revealed his own homosexuality a decade later. While it would be a little crass to suggest that Gaahl was Scandi-metal’s Malcolm X, there’s certainly a suggestion that, like Malcolm, he’s learning as he goes: making a journey from rage into something more sophisticated: staying true to his history and mistakes while not letting them constrict him, or peg him to blunt anger and inhumanity.

It seems to be that the truth of all of this – the conflux of paganism and nationalism, the engagement of anger and art – is likely to be a tricky knot to unwind, and one which I’ll leave there for now. Perhaps these gigs are worth attending for the thrilling roar alone, with the complexities to be worked out later, Go and discover, if you’re interested, but I’m sure that Einar and Ivar – and Gaahl too – would want you to go in with your eyes and ears fully open.

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More March gig news is on the way…
 

February 2016 – upcoming gigs – an evening of post-prog rumbles with O.R.k., Thumpermonkey, Landskap, The Earls of Mars and Komara; goodbye to Forks & Corks in Archway with a Pike/Daniels Quartet gig

19 Feb

Coming up on Sunday, there’s an evening of rumbling post-prog and post-metal:

Nightshift Promotions and Rock-A-Rolla Magazine present:
O.R.k. + Thumpermonkey + Landskap + The Earls Of Mars + Komara
The Underworld, 174 Camden High Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 0NE, England
Sunday 21st February 2016, 7.00pm
more information

O.R.k. @ The Underworld, 21st February 2016O.R.k. are an intercontinental quartet of prog, post-prog and art-rock stars: two Italians, one Anglo-Australian, one American. Colin Edwin provides bass bedrock, Carmelo Pipitone adds an impressive assortment of guitar tones, Pat Mastelotto sets up his usual whirl of drums and electronic triggers, and Lorenzo Esposito “Lef” Fornasari sings and handles the odd drapes and strikes of keyboard and synthesizer. Their debut album, ‘Inflamed Rides’, has been attracting quite a bit of attention since its release last year.

They’ve certainly got the credentials, but to my ears O.R.k. remains a band searching for an identity of their own, still trying on various mix-and-match suits beneath which to flex their impressive collective muscle. There’s certainly a strong flavour of other projects which the various members have been involved with (including the clunk-and-cigarette art-rock croon of David Sylvian and Robert Fripp’s ‘The First Day’, which Pat toured around the world, prior to getting the drum slot in King Crimson, and the interim soundscapes of Colin’s work with Porcupine Tree and latterday Ex-Wise Heads). Lef sings and emotes in a variety of familiar tones recalling Sylvian, Maynard James Keenan and Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt, as well as Mike Patton (with whom he shares extreme flexibility and a sense of skewed drama).

Having said that, O.R.k. are accomplished setters of mood and tone, transforming gracefully from folk-prog delicacy to death-metal rasp and ambient billows. Carmelo in particular is emerging as a superb and chameleonic rock polystylist (incorporating but transcending the punk-edged folk guitar webwork he shows with his main band Marta sui Tubi via electric drones, sheet-lightning riffage, and stress-damage lead lines).

All in all, the band are possibly closest to Lef’s work with Fourth World polyfusion project Berserk! a few years ago, but restrained by a thicker wall of progressive metal and possessing less of the jazz, lightness of touch or overall flexibility, as if it were being grappled around the knees by the arty sludge-rock of Lef’s other main recent project, Obake. There’s plenty of latent promise, especially since Lef’s a genuine musical polymath whose other collaborations span work with Bill Laswell, Nils Petter Molvaer, Italian post-hardcore heroes Ephel Duath and even singing in Nino Rota operas.

If there’s a problem, it’s just that O.R.k. are still groping in the dark for the elusive, necessary spark to shock them into fully being themselves. Come along and perhaps you’ll get to see the moment when they catch it. Meanwhile, here’s a chop-and-change video of live snippets from Milan earlier in the month, plus a few more album tracks:

Assuming that my mixed reactions to O.R.k. haven’t put you off, I should add that the support bands are at least as much of a draw.

Pat Mastelotto makes another appearance in the opening act, Komara – a heady and ferocious live-fusion trio which draw equally on the steely tendons of Crimson/Tool art rock, scintillating sheens of club electronica, and the balance of supple inventiveness fiery plasticity in Scandinavian nu-jazz acts such as Jaga Jazzist. Always one of the most inventive yet undervalued drummers of latterday prog, Pat is on particularly stirring form in this collaboration, which hooks him up with Italian electrophonic trumpeter Paolo Raineri (a collaborator with Stefano Battaglia, Junkfood and Blessed Beat, and with LEF in Berserk!) and Slovakian everything-guitarist David Kollar (an audacious polydisciplinary musician, playing his homemade instrument through an unusual array of pedals, effects and electronics).

Described disarmingly by David as “punky, ambient, electronic and avant-garde stuff”, Komara is actually much less of a spass-jazz kickaround than that would suggest. Informed by David’s work in film and dance projects . Paolo’s love for rock and free improv, and Pat’s knack for surging heavy polyrhythms, it has a sense of dark flamboyant drama: filled with kaleidoscopic brass and guitar textures and burning electrical energy, it flows and seethes more along the lines of David Torn’s still-arresting ‘Cloud About Mercury’ or of Andy Diagram’s work with Spaceheads.

The three London bands that make up the rest of the bill are all headliner-worthy, too. I’ve written plenty already about the mordant, tricksy brilliance of Thumpermonkey, whose melodious heavy-progressive songs are packed with mood and texture changes, rich vocals, gruff punk-and-metal-sourced energy and sly, literate lyric puzzles. They’re a band whose work you can stomp and head-bang to, yet spend a happy age unpicking.

The Earls of Mars plough a similarly playful furrow, though in a skinnier and more oblique vein. A morbidly humorous alliance between Harry Armstrong (once of early Noughties prog-metal stoners End Of Level Boss, and ‘90s doom metallers Decomposed and Hangnail) and Dan Hardingham (from horrorscape project Onethirtyeight), plus stand-up bassist Si McCarthy and drummer Dave Newman, they offer curdled cabaret dramatics and Tom Waits-ian/Mike Patton-esque takes on heavy metal, weird fiction and burlesque. The jokes swim under the surface of the music, like lurking alligators.


Landskap are a more sober and slow-welling affair altogether. If you’ve ever felt that Elbow are what happens when a band steeped in pastoral prog hits the mainstream, you might feel that Landskap is what might happen if it were coaxed back again. Although they cite late ‘60s and early ‘70s psychedelic rock as key influences, I’m more inclined to hear Isaac Hayes, Portishead or No-Man in their sound.

With that funk swing to the drumming, the bluesy smears, the clusters of electric piano and the solidity in the whole package, they sound more like a prog band who dream of being a soul or rhythm-and-blues band (as many of them did, back then, at the start). There’s also an authoritative, earthy ache in Jake Harding’s stern singing tones – a little of Jim Morrison, a little of Ian McCulloch – making him an earthbound anchor to the band’s flights. In an evening which has more than its fair share of cosmic jazz blurs, Gothic artifice and mischievous humour, Landskap are likely to add a little human depth and straightforwardness.


* * * * * * * *

Something good ending too soon? Only a few posts ago I was urging you all towards my neighbourhood venue Forks & Corks, the deli venue at the foot of Archway Tower, and its developing series of jazz gigs: I even took my own advice and made it to to the Jonny Gee quartet show the other Friday, bringing along a group of friends to have their feelings soothed in the wake of a funeral. In a swirl of Parker, Ellington and Porter interpretations, plus the quartet’s own originals, the job was done, buoyed up by the warmth of a Forks & Corks full house drawn from around the community and friends, plus the feeling that something was being built up in this unprepossessing but lovingly inhabited, carefully decorated space.

Now I hear that the latest gig there is likely to be the last Forks & Corks jazz show for a while. Quiet and ominous rumours suggest that it will be the last jazz show there ever, and that the venue itself (which was always sitting on a questionable future in the heart of an Archway redevelopment that’s increasingly out of control) is going to quietly close. I’ve no idea what will crop up in its place: presumably it will be yet another coffee shop to go with the newly-announced Coffee Republic a few doors down and the eight or ten other coffee joints scattered around the junction. Part of the scenario for a regenerated Archway appears to be encouraging us Archway residents to circulate, grinning, from well-furnished caffeine pump to well-furnished caffeine pump, pretending we’re in a ceaseless round of ‘Friends’ re-runs.

Anyway, here’s the information for that last gig.

Pike/Daniels Quartet, Forks & Corks, 20th February 2016


Jazz in Archway presents:
The Pike/Daniels Quartet
Forks & Corks, 2 Archway Mall, Junction Road, Archway, London, N19 5PH, England
Saturday 20th February 2016, 8.00pm
more information

A quick scuffle around the search engines turned up a bit of information on the band. It’s co-led by London jazz-noir singer Kate Daniels. and composer/multi-instrumentalist Graham Pike (who can play chromatic harmonica, trumpet, flugelhorn, trombone and keyboards); guitarist Phil Danter leads the jazz-pop octet Straight On Red and generally seems to live the dream, while bass player Kevin Dunford’s been a London fusion mainstay for years and plays with The Incredibly Strange Film Band. There’s not much news on the quartet as a whole, but that shouldn’t count against them. London jazz is full of obscurities, word-of-mouth and ad-hoc teamups: this may well be the start of another one.

As for Forks & Corks, if anything replaces its original spirit and its jazz initiative, I’ll post up that news whenever I get to hear about it. Whatever the future for the venue itself, its manager’s passion for jazz is heartfelt, so I wouldn’t write him off yet… Meanwhile, if you’re passing the deli, drop in for a snack while you still can.