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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…
 

August 2016 – upcoming gigs – odds and ends – Dennis bring North-Eastern mining-town pop to London (19th); noisy psychedelic rackets cooked up by Three Dimensional Tanx in Lancaster (20th) and by the Rocket Recordings All Dayer in London (20th – with Teeth of the Sea, Gum Takes Tooth, Necro Deathmort, Housewives, Anthroprophh, H.U.M, Kuro, Coldnose)

17 Aug

I’m not even going to pretend that there’s a connecting thread within this post – it’s just a roundup of Friday and Saturday gigs while I try to fit some more updates into what’s going to be a busy August outside of the blog.

It seems that my rant about ersatz brass bands and the appropriation of Northern British folk forms earlier in the month has borne some fruit, or at least generated some kind of knock-on effect. I’ve just been emailed about Dennis, an eight-piece “folk pit-pop & colliery brass band” from Hetton-le-Hole in the minelands of County Durham, who claim heirdom to “a working class cultural heritage and community spirit.” and who are playing a free gig in London on Friday. In many ways they’re a sugared-tea version of ascerbic ‘80s Hullensians The Housemartins – a soul-touched ‘60s guitar pop, with the soul horn section transmogrified into the distinctively mournful, dusty sound of a pit head brass ensemble.

While some of that comparison’s on point – they’ve certainly got the tunes, and spring even more directly from the culture, with even the guitarists learning pit brass back in primary school prior to an apprenticeship in indie – Dennis do lack the Housemartins’ explicit political bite. There’s little of the gadfly lyrical attacks, or an equivalent to Paul Heaton’s upfront socialism and targeting of privilege and exploitation. Instead, much of their ethos is expressed via their visual identity. Artwork and videos are festooned with mining and trade union banners and footage of workers’ marches, while some clips make use of elderly retirees in mining town social clubs (notably, the latter are invited to join in with the singing, instead of being treated either as craggy scenery or as crushing embarrassments).


 
Outwardly, Dennis seem to deal in softer topics – more personal, adolescent or universal, or more diffuse folky sing-alongs – but a quick closer look reveals an undercurrent of glowingly nostalgic communalism (the band are veterans of fundraisers and community support events), and lyrics which hanker back, obliquely, to community spirit and mutual help. Perhaps more will be revealed on their debut album ‘Open Your Eyes’, due at the start of September when they’ll be playing on home turf at Northumberland’s Coquetfest.

Dennis, and Sapien Records Ltd. present:
Dennis
Mau Mau Bar, 265 Portobello Road, Notting Hill, London, W11 1LR, England
Friday 19th August 2016, 7.00pm
– free event – information


 

* * * * * * * *

Over in the North-West, Lancaster psych-punk five piece Three Dimensional Tanx are playing a hometown gig on Saturday. With Stooges, Can and Velvet Underground comparisons in the bag, they’re following a pretty clear lineage: personally, I’m also hearing Question Mark and the Mysterians plus the garage rock end of the Sy Barrett Floyd; while other songs beat relentlessly at the forehead like Suicide or embark on long, stewed musical journeys.


 
What I like about this band is the dogged way in which they conduct themselves, and the way in which they seem to have colonised this particular Lancaster pub – circling around in its schedule like a persistently returning comet and playing several sets each time, as if pushing themselves through an arts lab. Turning the show into a five-decker lysergic sandwich, North-Western vinyl archivist Sie Norfolk (Sunstone Records/Psych Fest) will take slots before and after the band as well as during a break between sets, playing a “psychedelic dance party” from his record collection. If they’re going to continue to make this thing a regular event, I hope that they succeed in turning it into a psychedelic node, feeding more mindstretcher bands into and through Lancaster and beyond.


 

Three Dimensional Tanx + DJ Sie Norfolk
The Golden Lion, 33 Moor Lane, Lancaster, LA1 1QD, England
Saturday 20th August 2016, 9.00pm
information
 

* * * * * * * *

Staying in choppy psychedelic waters, the Rocket Recordings label has an eight-band concert back down in London, hosted (inevitably) by those persistent stewards of noise at Baba Yaga’s Hut. Many of the names are familiar – certainly to the dedicated noisies who follow the Hut and swing hard with ‘The Quietus’ – but for those who might not know them so well, here’s a quick primer.

As Baba Yaga favourites, Teeth Of The Sea keep popping up in here: a craggy yet celebratory electro-psychedelic throb from a full-band rock lineup embracing techno, polytextured brass, analogue synthwarp, tough corners of metal, and dance imperatives that span Chicago clubs and mud-sodden English field parties. Meanwhile, Necro Deathmort were among the electro-industrialists running rampant at at Cafe Oto last October: an all-out banger project which swings like a macabre wrecking ball across the borders of hard techno, blootered industrial electronica and doom metal. This year’s album ‘The Capsule’ takes a step into the scuzzy pack-ice of dark ambience: glowering, and majestically dour.



 

An explicitly magickal Anglo-French-Swiss trio of Mark Wagner, Heloise Zamzam and Olmo Uiutna, the spiritually/psi-ritually-inclined H.U.M. played at April’s Gnod Weekender. Back then I described them as a “psychic cross-cultural art coven”, creating consciousness-expanding installation-cum-ritual sound performances via chants, drones and drums, with both the music and Mark’s improvised narratives drawing on cybernetics, the occult, sound visualisations, and ancient alchemical ideas. They also like Rimbaud, Artaud, Colombian shamans and the Gallic pop of Francois Hardy, which makes for one hell of an art-sprawl.


 

Both Housewives and Anthroprophh showed up in ‘Misfit City’ only the other day, as participants in the current Sax Ruins/Massicot tours – the former an amelodic No Wave-inspired noise quartet, the latter a trio led by a sludge-guitar hero balancing “fifty years of psychedelic culture and esoteric art” on his shoulders.



 

That leaves Gum Takes Tooth, Kuro and Coldnose. Two of these, at least, are two-person teamings. Gum Takes Tooth are drummer Thomas Fuglesang and singer/synth-player/electronoise generator Jussi Brightmore, who pursue a rhythmic communion with their audiences inspired by psychedelic rituals and sound-system block parties (their recent single, Bone Weapon, sounds like a choral mass conducted inside a floor polisher). Kuro is a new project uniting bass guitarist Gareth Turner (an Anthroprophh contributor and half of Big Naturals) with French amplified violinist Agathe Max (a classical music escapee who’s been making improvised sonic textural music for two decades). As for who Coldnose are, nobody seems to know. Perhaps they’re just an idea to fill up the poster. Perhaps they’ll simply coalesce on the day.



 
Baba Yaga’s Hut presents:
Rocket Recordings All Dayer (featuring Teeth Of The Sea + Gum Takes Tooth + Necro Deathmort + Housewives + Anthroprophh + H.U.M + Kuro + Coldnose)
Corsica Studios, 4-5 Elephant Road, Elephant & Castle, London, SE17 1LB, England
Saturday 20th August 2016
information

There’ll also be barbeques and beer, the latter an Intergalactic Pale Ale devised by Rocket label people in collaboration with London hopsmasters Brewage à Trois. Yep, there’s a signature beer for psych-happy London heads now…
 

August 2016 – upcoming gigs – London goes prog-happy at the Lexington – The Gift + We Are Kin + Tiger Moth Tales’ Macmillan fundraiser (7th); the David Cross Band with David Jackson and Richard Palmer-James (9th)

5 Aug

I think I’ve previously described the Boston Music Room – one of my own local venues – as London’s current home of prog. If so, the Lexington, down in the hinterlands between Kings Cross and Angel, is making a good showing as a second home. Two imminent shows reinforce that reputation, making next week a good one for London’s prog village.

* * * * * * * *

The Gift/We Are Kin/Tiger Moth Tales @ The Lexington, 7th August 2016

Resonance, in association with Prog Magazine and Orange Amplification present
The Gift + We Are Kin + Tiger Moth Tales
The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, England
Sunday 7th August 2016, 6.30pm
– information here and here

The name that’s missing from the promoters’ line-up above is Bad Elephant Music: London’s ever-industrious cottage label for various types of prog, and home for two of the acts on the bill. In some respects, this is a shuffled and re-run of a similar gig back in February, in which The Gift’s mix of symph/prog/folk grandeur plus flashy AOR (and We Are Kin’s exploration of art rock shapes and northern English socialism) lined up with a pair of one-man bands in the shape of steampunk balladeer Tom Slatter and troubadour rocker jh. Now The Gift are back, and so are We Are Kin, with only the choice of one-man-band changed. Here’s the official blurb from the Elephant:

The Gift, fresh from their triumphant performance at An Evening Of Bad Elephant Music, will be headlining the event, bringing their own particular brand of symphonic progressive rock on stage. The band is currently working on the followup to 2014’s ‘Land of Shadows’, and may well be previewing a song or two here.


 
“Making the journey down to ‘that London’ all the way from Manchester, We Are Kin will be playing a selection of songs from their new album, ‘The Waiting Room’, as well as from their acclaimed debut, ‘Pandora’. Their twin vocal lineup wowed the audience at Abel Ganz’s Christmas party last year, and is sure to be a highlight of this event.


 
Tiger Moth Tales is the brainchild of Pete Jones, who will be performing solo for this event. His live shows have been widely acclaimed for their virtuosity, emotion and huge sense of fun. Pete’s two album releases ‘Cocoon’ and ‘Storytellers Part One’ will both be represented in his performance, and he may well throw in one or two cover versions of the prog classics!”



 

Just one final note – the gig’s a fundraiser for Macmillan Cancer Trust, emphasising a community that’s broader than just the prog one.

* * * * * * * *

David Cross Band @ The Lexington, 9th August 2016

The David Cross Band (with special guest David Jackson) + Richard Palmer-James
The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, England
Tuesday 9th August 2016, 7:30 pm
– information here and here

Despite nearly five decades in music, David Cross is still best known for his contributions to three albums at the start of his career. During a two-year early-‘70s stint with King Crimson (incorporating ‘Starless And Bible Black’, ‘Larks’ Tongues In Aspic’ and ‘Red’) David added “delicacy, and wood” to what some consider to be the band’s finest incarnation – part proto-punk-Mahavishu Orchestra, part stately electric-classical chamber group, and part droning/clattering/blaring building site. In its relatively brief and always restless lifespan, this particular Crimson lineup lay athwart the path of progressive rock, heavy metal and European improvisation like a splinter-ridden sleeper across the tracks: innovative, stern and ornery.

David’s amplified violin was a key part of the band’s powerful Euronoise, bringing in evocative melodies and moods which varied between Roma scurries, fall-of-Rome dramatics, foggy drones and angry squeals. As was the case with many of the departures from Crimson, David’s was passionate, painful and galling: progressively swamped by the band’s incremental climb towards avant-rock brutality, he was eventually forced out by its bruising, bristling volume and the implacable battering of its rhythm section. It took a few decades for him to salvage a more cordial relationship with Crimson leader Robert Fripp: nonetheless, the reconciliation has led to a return to the large extended Crimson family including guest spots and latterday Soundscape duets as well as recent electric chamber music with Crim-connected composer Andrew Keeling.)

Immediately after Crimson, though, David had to follow a different winding path of his own. From mid-‘70s work with trans-Manche psych/prog/fusioneers Clearlight (and experiments with big-band improv whilst leading the sadly undocumented Ascend) he went on to a long learning process during which, by his own admission, he failed at jazz. On the other hand, he successfully honed an affinity with alternative improvisation and with other forms. Theatre, in particular, proved to be a natural home, with David working up on stage and behind the scenes as well as in the pit band or composer’s slot. Theatricality also bled through into his other musical work. A trio he formed with keyboard player Sheila Maloney and saxophonist Pete McPhail took to the arts centres to perform musical interpretations of Samuel Beckett plays, while from the turn of the 1980s David was carrying out interdisciplinary performances with dancers, painters and the like (something he’s continued up until the present day).

After a decade away, a return to fusion and avant-rock in the late 1980s saw David becoming a keystone of Geoff Serle’s Radius band; an interesting, if airlessly pastoral, British answer to Material’s electro-funk. He was also a quarter of one-shot project Low Flying Aircraft, in which he joined forces with Crimson-orbit jazz pianist Keith Tippett, drummer Dan Maurer and budding teenaged guitar whiz Jim Juhn in a leaf-storm of nervy electroacoustic frenzy and scattered early sampler sputters. (For my money, it’s probably his most interesting post-Crimson bandwork to date.). He’s stayed busy ever since – this year, for instance, saw the release of violin-and-electronica duo album with Sean Quinn of Tiny Magnetic Pets, plus a live album from Japanese dates in which he guested with Crimson spinoff trio Stick Men.


 

All of this suggests the work of a musician whose reputation should be broader and better respected. It’s probably only the taint of grand prog – and of the “wrong kind” of fusion – which keeps him from it. In experimental rock (or, more accurately, in the media commentary which covers it, particularly on the British side) there still seem to be very clear, if dubious and snobbish, rules about who’s allowed credibility, and why. It’s not easy to escape from those fencings; and without this side of his history, David might have had his due.


 

For better or for worse, David’s most enduring project has been his own David Cross Band. Anchored since the mid-’90s by cohorts and co-composers Mick Paul (bass) and Paul Clark (guitars), it displays his electric violin – by turns stately, romantic, gnarled or locustlike – coursing fluently over a grandiose, detailed bed of prog pomp, deep metal, and flaring jazz-rock gestures. This year, however, the band’s taken an intriguing and strategic left-turn. With their latest album ‘Sign Of The Crow’ barely out of the gate, they’ve unexpectedly replaced keyboard player Alex Hall with veteran avant-prog sax hero David Jackson, once of Van Der Graaf Generator.

David Jackson in full 1970s effect (photographer unknown)

David Jackson in full 1970s effect (photographer unknown)

Musically adventurous and visually iconic, Jackson spent his Van Der Graaf years festooned with multiple instruments, blowing double-horn brass sections through brain-buggering electronics and being described as “a Third Reich bus conductor”. Since then, he’s spent much of his time working on the gesture-to-MIDI Soundbeam electronic project (bringing out the musicality of disabled children) while sometimes venturing out for gigs on the strength of his experimental rock reputation. Since crossing paths with David Cross at one such gig in Verona years ago, Jackson has been one of his frequent improvisation partners, making him an overdue natural fit for something like this. Regarding their chemistry, here’s a lengthy fly-on-the-wall video of the two of them playing (alongside Yumi Hara and Tony Lowe) at a release show for the Cross/Fripp ‘Starless Starlight’ album of Crimson-inspired Soundscape duets. Covering the show from rehearsal to performance, it hints at some of what the Cross/Jackson duo might be bringing to bear on the band shows; something which might well be transformational, pulling the band up and out of its shiny prog-metal box and perhaps delivering David Cross some of the broader respect he deserves.


 

The new Cross Band lineup, completed by Space Cowboys singer Jinian Wilde and by poly-disciplinary drummer Craig Blundell (who displays a heartening taste for post-dubstep playing when people let him off the prog leash), made their live debut in Wolverhampton last month. While no videos have emerged from this, there have been enthusiastic reports; and as King Crimson tours as a grand septet with a long-denied, fervently-delivered battery of archived ’70s classics, the Cross band are studding their own set with live deliveries of 21st Century Schizoid Man and Starless.

The London gig’s also intriguing in that it features a rare-as-rocking-horse-shit British solo slot from Richard Palmer-James. Originally the embattled first guitarist and wordsmith for Supertramp (a long time before they hit big at the American breakfast bar), Richard was the long-distance lyricist for King Crimson during David’s tenure and has subsequently carried out the same favour for twenty years of various Cross bands. Based in Bavaria for forty-odd years, he’s spent most of it embedded in production and writing work for German pop: since the turn of the century, however, he’s revived his original love for playing blues and country guitar. Most likely it will be this side of him that we’ll see at the Lexington on Tuesday. Still, who knows what the sense of occasion might bring out?
 

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.”

* * * * * * * *

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.

* * * * * * * *

More March gig news is on the way…
 

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