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February 2019 – upcoming English folk-rock-but-not-just-folk-rock gigs – My Octopus Mind on tour (13th, 16th, 21st, 22nd February) with Jakabol, The Display Team, Lapis Lazuli and Malika Collective; Hexvessel and Arktau Eos in London (22nd February)

10 Feb

Flexible Bristol almost-acoustic trio My Octopus Mind occupy a pleasing position, settled in their own web of connections between a number of different influences but reliant upon none of them. There’s a jazzy rattle, predominantly via the gloriously noisy effected double bass of Izy Ellis (a growling, punchy, conversational art-box; upfront timber and raw electronic treatments). The whole band’s informed by post-Radiohead/Mars Volta art rock and by the mating of contrasts implicit in assorted culture collisions (such the Hindustani-classical meets New-York-loft-music teaming achieved in one particular favourite, Philip Glass and Ravi Shankar’s ‘Passages’). Frontman singer and guitarist Liam O’Connell cites the sonic and psychological crescendos of Jeff Buckley and Josh Homme’s mix of heaviness and irony, but also the restraint of Jose Gonzales. Ex-Lambhorneer Oliver Cocup adds refreshed drum bounce, and racing through the whole thing is a rivulet – or, more accurately, an unstoppable jet – of skittish Balkan folk.


 
With a debut album, ‘Maladyne Cave’, nearing release, My Octopus Mind are out on a brief English tour wriggle this month, taking in Manchester, Canterbury, London and their hometown. In part, it’s to celebrate the recent release of their debut single Elska, with its increasingly disturbing Coppelian dance video (in which a man wheels an impassive doll-woman around in a suitcase, engaging in secret and increasingly frustrated trysts with her).

While Manchester is an evening for the band on their own, various temporary tourmates slot in elsewhere – in London, it’ll be the accomplished Afro-Latin groove band Malika Collective. The Canterbury show sports an eclectic psychedelic edge with local jam band and “maximalist psych-prog heroes” Lapis Lazuli plus the convoluted Zappa-brass meets London-urchin-pop of The Display Team (see passim) and psych/prog/punk funk/soul/dub/afro combination DJ interludes from Professor Appleblossom. The Bristol tour launch show, meanwhile, also features Jakabol, a warm Bristolian instrumental band in which violin, harp, guitar and drums leap and lurch tunefully around a set pitched midway between post-rock gutter and country hoedown (perhaps a further extension of the rural post-rocking I’ve been hearing from Rumour Cubes and Apricot Rail).



 
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Linkings between folk music and heavy rock go back pretty much all of the way to the start of the latter, especially in Europe. In plain sight, Led Zeppelin regularly immersed themselves in Welsh border hillsides and Janschian jangle; a little later, Jethro Tull brought in the jigs, liltings and mandolins while allying them to Ian Anderson’s witty, sardonic absolutely-in-the-moment songwriting voice (which swept in the eclectic interests and erudition of a restless, randy, contemporary urban boulevardier who could’ve make the idea of a leprechaun in your sitting room sound like something contemporary, adult and immediate rather than twee). In the ‘90s a swell of Celtic/Nordic folk metal and Gothic paganism via bands such as Skyclad led to a revival of mythic musical drama; in the Noughties, there was the feeling that the likes of Opeth were peering over their successive ramparts of black metal and prog in search of something offering more air and antiquity. Nowadays, you can hardly move for this sort of thing sprouting up from Ireland to Israel: driving a guitar through a hefty amp seems like one of the most effective ways to kick off an interest in your own folk history.

In many respects, latterday Anglo-Irish-Finnish heavy-folk-rockers Hexvessel hanker back to Tull – some of the lilts and jangles are there, as are the banging barn-door blurts of chunky electric guitar work – but they also trade in some of the dramatic minor keys and broody, nonconforming, subculture-meets-antiquity feel of Skyclad. Of course, this is probably incidental: it would be more constructive to reconsidering the swirling body of interests and philosophy surrounding singer and prime mover Mat McNerney. Despite Mat’s former black metal links (as “Kvohst”, he cavorted across stages with bands like Dødheimsgard and Code), Hexvessel avoid certain predictable pitfalls – no ludicrous demonic posturing; no arid hating; no polluted white-is-right old-Europe nationalism. This is primarily because under the corpse paint Kvohst always seems to have been a thoughtful and sensible chap with a well-calibrated bullshit detector, sorting the nourishing myths from the toxic ones.




 
Instead, Hexvessel explore a range of thinking stimuli – post-/pre-Catholic pagan magick; the connecting threads connecting contemporary Finnish woodland psych with the brooding kosmische stews of Amon Duul and the chatty verbal maximalism of early ‘70s British psych folk; comic book legendariums; and respectful pro-feminist reintegrations of women back into musical forms that have often wandered too far down macho paths. Later this month, they’re setting up camp at St Johns Bethnal Green; playing a London show as part of the European tour in support of brand new album ‘All Tree’, in which they’ve endeavoured to blend Mat’s memories of old ghost stories and other transmissions of folk culture with their own dramatic Samhain vibes and symbolic forest-folk musical experiments (including playing tree boughs with violin bows). Mat sees it as a way of connecting to Samhain’s liminal side; a time when ancestors, as spirits and memories, are that much closer.

Hexvessel’s tree-bowing was captured out by the band’s resident field recording/sound conjuring wizard Antti Haapapuro. In another incarnation – as half of sacking-masked ritual ambient/oneiric duo Arktau Eos – he and fellow Eosian Antti Litmanen open the show, rubbing the psychic gateways open with their primeval sounding drones, swells and invocation of significant spaces – simultaneously post-industrial and prehistoric, thrumming out of a green church, resonating nook or ancient gravehole like a stone-tape playback of ancient, dignified rites.

Steeped in hermetic philosophy and Apophatic theology, Arktau Eos come across as thoughtful ceremonial scholars in interviews such as this one in the ‘This Is Darkness’ ezine. Eloquent and courteous if you care to track them down for a respectful conversation, but unswayed by distractions from their business of the mining of the “ur-currents” of religious faith; the pull of site-specific mysteries, apprehending experience without attempting to stare it in the face or pin it down with sentences. In a similar spirit, I think I should just leave the descriptions there, as they stand. Essentially, it’s all in the sound and the placement, and the ceremonial use of the available moment. Understand them that way.


 
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Dates:

My Octopus Mind:

  • The Crofters Rights, 117-119 Stokes Croft, Bristol, BS1 3RW, England – Wednesday 13th February 2019, 7.30pm (with Jakabol) – information here and here
  • The Old Abbey Taphouse, Guildhall Close, Manchester, M15 6SY, England – Saturday 16th February 2019, 7.30pm – information here
  • UCA Bar Canterbury, New Dover Road, Canterbury, Kent, CT1 3AN, England – Thursday 21st February 2019, 7.30pm (with The Display Team + Lapis Lazuli) – information here
  • The Magic Garden, 231 Battersea Park Road, Battersea, London, SW11 4LG, England – Friday 22nd February 2019, 7.00pm (with Malika Collective) – information here and here

Old Empire proudly presents:
Hexvessel + Arktau Eos
St John on Bethnal Green, 200 Cambridge Heath Road, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9PA, England
Friday 22nd February 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here
 

February 2019 – upcoming London jazz gigs – Gemini Trio (12th, 21st, 23rd, 28th February); Adam Ben Ezra with Joseph Tawadros plus Uniting Of Opposites (22nd February); Nick Walters & The Paradox Ensemble (22nd February)

3 Feb

Having taken some first steps in public at the Putney Half Moon and Folklore Hoxton over the last few months, London-based Italian jazz-rockers Gemini Trio will be embarking on a five-gig journey around London from mid-February (with more to follow in March and April).

Formed at BIMM by three young Milanese players (guitarist Adriano Balducci Moncada, bass guitarist Edoardo Marcarini and drummer Alessandro Iannicelli, they’re a mellow, airy, accessible alliance. In terms of their jazz and rock roots, they cite some fairly predictable roots (John Coltrane and Pat Metheny at one end, Radiohead, Tool and Led Zeppelin at the other) but they also apparently harbour inspirations from African music and from progressive and indie rock and which they’re less specific about (bar a friendly name-drop for Milanese Zappa torch-bearers Elio e Le Storie Tese). It’ll probably unfold over time: it’s early days for them yet, and their stew’s still in the early stages of brewing.

Right now they’re fluent, agreeable flashboys with a likeable lightness of touch and a debut single called Vivacissimo. With a title like that you’d expect a helping of ELO or disco cheese to be stirred into their music, but instead they seem happy to win you over with something breezy and sunny to overcome English winter gloom… and here it is. I’m enjoying putting it on loop, perhaps because I still miss What?!


 
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Surfing a substantial career wave at the moment (partly thanks to his canny understanding of the entertainment potential of YouTube clips) is Israeli solo double bassist and master showman Adam Ben Ezra, who’s back headlining the Jazz Café on the 22nd. Bold, humorous and technically dazzling, Adam covers a spectrum of music from serious swing to percussive melodious modern jazz tunes to flurrying flamencoid spasms to popcorn pop-culture gags (he’s enticed in a lot of jazz-wary fans thanks to the bait of his virtuosic, web-viral renditions of TV themes).

Although he’s cited Eddie Gomez and fellow performance monster Jaco Pastorius as main bass influences, Adam’s forceful flexibility, punchy tone, swinging rhythmicality and wit also happily channels the ghost of Bob Haggart. His knack for live-looping tricks’n’textures and electronic media savvy, meanwhile, echo Steve Lawson; and his tendency to temporarily set aside his bass and burst out with other instruments over the course of an evening or an album recall another heavy-acoustic virtuoso, Michael Hedges.


 
Adam’s guest for the show will be progressive cross-genre oud player Joseph Tawadros. An adopted Aussie with Egyptian Coptic roots (though he’s also been a Londoner for a couple of years now), Joseph has released sixteen albums over fourteen years of career. Musically, he’s a friendly rebel and natural showman who (like Khyam Allami) pulls oud music out of its Middle Eastern classical niche and introduces it to jazz, Western classical and any other cross-pollination he can get hold of.

He’s also a scarily talented bastard who took on fifty-two different instruments on a recent album. While I’ve heard that that was more spur-of-the-moment one-man-band than fully-polished ensemble, his oud playing is internationally reknowned and has won him collaborations with Béla Fleck, John Abercrombie, The Academy of Ancient Music and plenty more.


 
Getting things moving are show openers Uniting Of Opposites, a cross-generational contemporary Indo-jazz project allied to and releasing on Brighton label Tru Thoughts. With a past as UK dance DJ/producer Tim Deluxe, (and for 2002 house hit It Just Won’t Do) Tim Liken had long since supplemented his original career with an expanding self-education on jazz piano by the time he hooked up with the existing duo of Ben Hazleton and Clem Allford. Sitarist Clem was already a musical veteran (with five decades of work behind him including a sitar toting pilgrimage to India in order to learn from the source, plus film and session work and membership of pioneering early ‘70s Indo-psyche folkers Magic Carpet. Double bassist Ben was a former Young Jazz Musician of the Year who’d notched up time with Jonathan Gee and Tony Kofi.

To expand the music, they’ve added drummer Eddie Hick (who’s been all over ‘Misfit City’ recently thanks to gigs with Steam Down and Ruby Rushton), tabla player Manjeet Singh Rasiya, clarinettist Idris Rahman, and singer/F’ire Collective graduate Marcina Arnold. Last summer’s debut album ‘Ancient Lights‘ (arriving with a twist of psychedelic sonic illumination and dance-culture bliss, plus a pinch of surrealist flavour) reveals a band whose propulsive energy, enthusiasm, agelessness and hopefulness look set to give Adam a run for his money.



 
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Playing on the same day as Adam, Joseph and Uniting of Opposites is Nick Walters, known in British jazz circles as a trumpeter’s trumpeter, and on this occasion leading his thirteen-piece Paradox Ensemble big band – a thirteentet? – through a set of part-composed, part-improvised pieces mingling Mingus with Western Africa, and Woody Shaw with Eastern mysticism.

Like Eddie Hick, Nick’s known for his playing with Ruby Rushton, and at least two RR compadres show up in this group – saxophonist/flautist Tenderlonious and keyboard player Aidan Shepherd on synth and accordion. The group’s four-track mini-album ‘Awakening’ showed up at the end of last month, featuring music which runs from assured playing-around with Togo rhythms to tributes to cricket commentator Henry Blofeld (as well as employing less common jazz instrumentation such as sousaphone and harp).



 
Paradox Ensemble are playing as guests of the Church of Sound promotional project, which brings brings beautiful music to holy places – mostly, as in this case, the Victorian church of St James the Great in Lower Clapton, which has already seen them host shows by Kokoroko, Mansur Brown, Nubya Garcia and many others.

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Dates:

Gemini Trio:

  • Babel Café 86 Stoke Newington High Street, Stoke Newington, London N16 7PA, England – Tuesday 12th February 2019, 8.00pm – information here
  • Grow, 98c Main Yard, Wallis Road, Hackney Wick, London, E9 5LN, England – Thursday 21st February 2019, 8:00 PM – free event – information here and here
  • Bar Lorca, 175 Stoke Newington High Street, Stoke Newington, London, N16 0LH, England – Thursday 21st February 2019, 11:59 pm – information here
  • MAP Studio Café, 46 Grafton Road, Kentish Town, London, NW5 3DU, England – Saturday 23rd February 2019, 5.00pm – information here and here
  • Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England – Thursday 28th February 2019, 8.00pm – information here

Adam Ben Ezra (with Joseph Tawadros) + Uniting Of Opposites
The Jazz Café, 5 Parkway, Camden Town, London, NW1 7PG, England
Friday 22nd February 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

Church of Sound presents:
Nick Walters & The Paradox Ensemble: Blowing Gold
St James the Great, 188 Lower Clapton Road, Clapton, London, E5 8EG, England
Friday 22nd February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

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.



 
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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

 

October 2018 – upcoming rock/experimental/dance gigs in England – The Evil Usses on tour in Liverpool, Salford and Derby (4th, 6th, 7th October) with shows also featuring Unstoppable Sweeties Show, The Age Of Glass, Mal, Night Stage, Shunya and Unicursal

30 Sep

This coming week, The Evil Usses take their witty, post-Beefheart/No Wave skronk-rock out of Bristol to travel in a brief arc across the Midlands and the North.



 
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In Liverpool, they’ll be playing a saxophone-heavy Postmusic night with three Merseyside acts.

Jazz-punk absurdists Unstoppable Sweeties Show will be celebrating the release of their second album “Bring Kath her Breamcatcher [the musical]”. Styling themselves as “post-pronk” or as “passive-aggressive progressive prog” they come across as prime nonsensical Scouse upsetters: singer Yashaswi Sharma sounds like a young PJ Harvey yelping nonsequiturs, drug babble and occasional obscenities against an omnidirectional springy racket of guitars, saxophone and drums (while a bassline rushes across the gaps like a spider on a slender bridge, under fire). Incorporating “free improvisation, spoken word, avant-garde, noise, and comedy” as blunt objects in their armoury, USS are part of the scattered North-West English rock weirdness which includes a.P.a.t.t., White Blacula and Poisoned Electrick Head. (They’ve got members of the first two on board, plus people from the LAZE and from Elmo & The Styx, making them something of a Mersey anti-supergroup).



 
Rounding out the Liverpool bill, Mal provide ritualistic occult-industrial ambient noise (employing synth pads and doubled saxophones for “brutal sermons” and “chilling sideways sweeps at things”), while Unicursal bring cut-up acoustic noise via guitar and tape loop.

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For Salford’s Space Cassette night, Evil Usses will be playing with delightfully spindly Manchester band The Age Of Glass, who employ skinny acoustic guitar skank, rolling jazz bass and crisp percussion to create their own yelping electronic dance/dub/funk combination.



 
Age Of Glass’ samplehead Alan Keary will also be performing as his own multi-instrumental, multi-genre project Shunya, using his mastery of guitar, programming, jazz double bass and other strings to create a rattled, skittish combination of post-classical, jazz and electronic dance ideas. Firing live beats across live instrumentation that can vary from duo performances to a twelve-piece band, he’s already made a name for himself by remixing the work of latterday choral composer Eric Whitacre, and drawn collaborative interest from members of GoGo Penguin: his future’s looking bright and intriguing.




 
In addition, Talos 4000 (specialist in “acid rave/cosmic dross”) and Burnibus (curator of eclectic electronica show Non Dualism Podcast) will be providing the DJ sets. Here’s an example of some previous Space Cassette-ing…

 
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In Derby, Evil Usses’ support comes from Night Stages: the brainchild of Dubrek Studio owner and Derby music stalwart Jay, who’s put together his own “psychedelic noise-rock super group” featuring members of assorted Derby strivers Them Are They, Twinkie and YouNoGoDie. They’re still so underground and emergent that they’ve got no web presence yet, so all we’ve got to go on is an account from Derby arts-blog ‘Storge’, from a previous Dubrek all-dayer – “they are loud, shimmering sludge, and at one point the rhythm section sounds like pure, glorious metal. The guitar sounds Jay provides at times sound like shattering glass and if he hits that red pedal of doom you know it means trouble for your hearing.”

* * * * * * * * *

Full dates:

  • Postmusic @ DROP The Dumbulls Gallery, Dublin Street, Liverpool, L3 7DT, England, Thursday 4th October 2018, 7.30pm (with Unstoppable Sweeties Show + Mal + Unicursal) – information here
  • Space Cassette @ Siren Asylum, 24 Missouri Avenue, Salford, M50 2NP, England, Saturday 6th October 2018, 10.00pm (with The Age of Glass + Shunya) – information here and here
  • Dubrek Studio, 6 Becket Street, Derby, Derbyshire, DE1 1HT, England, Sunday 7th October 2018, 6.30pm (with Night Stages) – information here and here

 

August 2018 – upcoming London gigs – Phaze Theory blends occult Blake-and-Yeats visions with brooding jazz rock (28th August)

25 Aug

Phaze Theory, 28th August 2018

When I think of musicians citing the mystical, revolutionary poetry of Yeats or Blake, I’m likely to think of assorted classic rock fops; or young white literate/ dissolute pretenders fitting the pair in between their Rimbaud and Verlaine namedrops. The Libertines loved Blake; as have a swathe of musicans ranging from stadium botherers Robert Plant, Richard Ashcroft and U2 to dedicated underground upsetters like The Fugs, Duglen and Coil. Further delving turns up quotings and reverent steals by Pet Shop Boys and Bloc Party, plus the fact that Blake himself was a songwriter. As for Yeats, Joni Mitchell has set him to music, as has Van Morrison: the Hold Steady met him at a party in Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night, Bright Eyes quotes him in Four Winds; and from her debut album, Sinead O’Connor’s devastating Troy reshapes and reclaims his ‘No Second Troy’.

As for those who take on both, there’s North Sea Radio Orchestra with their sweet folk-toned chamber music settings. More prominently, there’s Patti Smith, who shook Blake-and-Yeats vision out into her early punk poetry and has kept it up ever since. Then there’s Patti’s ardent acolyte, Mike Scott of The Waterboys, who’s kept both by him on his travels: snarling about Blakean tigers and savage earth hearts on his debut album, capping ‘Fisherman’s Blues’ by fusing Yeats fairy tales with New York minimalism and Irish chamber-folk, and devoting a whole album to Yeats-isms twenty-three years after that.


 
What I’m getting at is that Blake-and-Yeats setters and expressers, in music, tend to be storm-tossed white romantics… with the music to match. Bar guesting singers here and there (including some formidable soul wailers), Phaze Theory are certainly white, are probably romantics, and may well be storm-tossed, but it’s initially a surprise to encounter their own take on this particular poetry; working it as a collective muse for a band that, while it calls its music art rock, has more in common with reggae, dub and the glowering Dark Magus electric wrack of Miles Davis in the early ‘70s.

Around in various forms since 2014, they’re led by a questing mystic of a tuba player, Christopher Barrett. Their conservatoire backgrounds and well-schooled chops belie their strange geological ferocity, stemming from an interest in Britain’s occult traditions and how these break through into sounds and words. Dedicated to “exploring the vastness of the musical cosmos” they lay claim to “roots in the deep grooves of the earth and the city and our branches reaching to the stars… we seek to free your feet, open your heart and liberate your spirit.”

In tone and intent, and at full heat, they’re an unexpected outpost of New Weird Britain, set in a jazzier wilderness in which Marco Quarantotto’s echoed drums, Tal Janes’ gnarled heavy guitar and in particular Barrett’s rumbling, adroit, effects-burnished electric tuba (which shifts seamlessly from bass to horn parts, sometimes with no immediate break) probe and scald across a foreboding, eerie terrain of post-industrial brambles, Tannoy vocals and perhaps a little Hendrix crunch. Compare and contrast their troubling, hallucinatory take on The Song of Wandering Aengus (recorded with Manchester singer Rae Jones) with the polished, melodious elegance of the Waterboys version above.



 
Currently collaborating with London rhythm-&-blues/Southern soul singer Arthur Lea, this imminent end-of-the-month gig at the Vortex is part of their ongoing process of bringing their music back to London and England after a brief Californian shift. Back to the grime but also back to the original fertility, I guess.

Phaze Theory
The Vortex Jazz Club, 11 Gillett Square, Dalston, London, N16 8AZ, England
Tuesday 28th August 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here
 

June 2018 – upcoming London gigs – Multi-Storey’s 1st Birthday Party with WorstWorldProblems, Augustus, Tony Njoku, Elsa Hewitt, The Mantis Opera and Socket; experimental choralists Haha Sounds Collective sing David Axelrod, with Blueprint Blue and Lætitia Sadier (both 9th June)

6 Jun

A couple of posts ago I was grumbling vaguely about ‘Misfit City’ getting too rarefied, cubbyholed and white. If I’m absolutely honest, that’s probably my default setting – the subcultural narrowness, that is, not the complaining. Part of the point of the blog is to expand my own musical education: it’s a process of broadening my outlook and involvement as a listener. Still, I’m well aware that I frequently travel and listen more like a toy fisherman in a novelty clock – rotating in a small circle around an established axis while flicking out a line for what must often seem more like show than anything else.

Gratifyingly, a new gig’s hoving into view at the end of the coming week involving two of the acts I’ve previously covered – one outright punk, the other convoluted RIO techprog – rubbing up against hip-hop, textured ‘tronica and avant-soul-pop. On the same day, an indie-slanted choral group duck the spell of Britpop-grunge covers by investigating David Axelrod alongside an Americana band and a showing by Gallo-Anglo lounge-pop queen Lætitia Sadier. Sometimes you don’t have to force or hanker after cross-pollination: sometimes it comes to you, unprompted.

* * * * * * * *

From promoters Multi-Storey:

“We’ve actually made it to our first birthday and it’s all down to the amazing people who have played, danced, and generally been friendly and encouraging at our shows! We’ve had an absolute pleasure meeting and listening to some of the most thrilling new bands both from London and further afield over the past 365 and a bit days, so we thought that a big monstrous party/gig/exhibition with some of our favourites would be the perfect way to round off a wonderful year. We want to say thanks to those who have been so helpful, say hi to some new friends, and toss ourselves around like a sentient salad. We’ll be joined at one of our favourite venues by an eclectic and spectacular line-up of our favourite and most exciting new acts, which we will be announcing over the next few weeks. Get yourself a ticket for a late night with unexpected levels to it, and some fantastic music that you never knew existed – stay tuned for announcements!”

Multi-Storey's First Birthday Party, 9th June 2018

Multi-Storey presents:
‘Multi-Storey’s 1st Birthday Party’ featuring Worst World Problems + Augustus + Tony Njoku + Elsa Hewitt + The Mantis Opera + Socket
Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, 42-46 Pollard Row, Bethnal Green, London, E2 6NB, England
Saturday 9th June 2018, 9.00pm
– information here and here

Announcements have duly arrived. Up in the headliner slot, Worst World Problems are a new hip-hop collective. On the evidence of their mini-album ‘Tape One’ their sound’s a blend of chilly ‘80s synthpop nightscapes, data-bus drift and exhausted, hooded, sore-heeled rapping. Inevitable ‘Mezzanine’ and Drake comparisons ensue: there’s that same draggled, overcast feel in the sad ambient production billows and the flow, but WWP take it even further. Their raps feel like echoes around corners, anti-brags, collarbone murmurs from introspective three-quarters-broken boys feeling reamed out and deadened by romantic disintegrations. You feel that at some point they’re going to blow themselves out with a sigh.


 
Augustus is producer/drummer/keyboard player Gus Lobban, who for the past four years has mixed and dispensed cheery ice-cream-flavoured Anglo-J-pop with Kero Kero Bonito, more recently upping the fuzz-rock/stage-school urchin content. I’m not sure what he intends for this solo appearance, but here’s KKB’s recent Only Acting single: pick out his contributions if you can. Here, the breakdown sounds like a literal breakdown: he might still be surfing the shockwave.

 
Anglo/Nigerian/cosmic artiste Tony Njoku writes and sings eccentric, thread-fine, vulnerable electro/sort-of-soul, reflecting a young life spent mostly in “grey areas”. Beneath his papery falsetto, slide-clicking trap beats and silly-putty analogue synthwork align with lyrics about origami swans, seraphim and care-powered balloons. African tin-can beats are sideswiped by colossal dance drones and billowing symphonic modular-synth stackings. Pick-out piano fragments leans against rice-paper inserts of gospel tones. It’s psychedelic, but it’s a long way from the muscularity of P-Funk or The Temptations: Afrodelic in hue, it’s also untrammelled by cultural confines.

Imagine a set of constellatory echoes of David McAlmont and Arca; of Wayne Coyne and Frank Ocean; of Jackie Shane and Ahnoni; even bits of Jon Anderson and Arthur Russell. Gossamer and guts. As for Tony himself, his music comes with the feeling that he’s unhitching from as many enforced identities and narratives as he’s clambering onto: as if he’s escaping in plain sight.

 
“Electronic – lo-fi – avant garde – experimental – singer-songwriter – ambient – if there is one thing I am not, I know that it is pop… catchy nonetheless.” The releaser of a series of cassette albums (rising to a prolific swell in 2017), Elsa Hewitt creates assorted soft and mesmeric musical shapes on samplers, loopers, guitars or pianos; or on captured, folded sounds; or with banked and buried voices. It’s electronica of a kind, but without the matter-of-fact construction – this stuff sounds genuinely collaged and soft-sculptural, its cycles and processes and dream-pop sibilances ready for flexion or redeployment at any time. Some of her work is like chiming cartoon birdsongs, some of it like knitted cirrus or a cove-caught sea of whispering mouths. There are plenty of loopers and glitchers about, but few who can make their work sound so organic and subtly potent.



If you missed my original summary of The Mantis Opera late last month, I suggested that they “fused Henry Cow, Battles and early Scritti Politti…. Guitarist, singer and electronics meddler Allister Kellaway… delivers his stirring, challenging constructions via a full electro-experimental synth-rock band, voicing a collection of “avant-garde grumbles” via a multiplicity of synth sounds and colliding pop tones. If this sounds inaccessible and snooty, it isn’t. It’s just that the tunes arrive in complicated cascading splinters, many parts urging in parallel towards an out-of-sight coda, while a dreamily precise atmosphere prevails: avant-prog keeping watch from under a dream-pop veil.

“The pieces themselves display an ambitious, orchestral thinking – Reykjavik, for example, is less a guitar clang with lofty ambitions and more of a cerebral/visceral string quartet piece transposed for rock band. Allister’s winding, philosophical lyrics, meanwhile, are very reminiscent of Henry Cow and of Rock in Opposition preoccupations, dissecting as they do themes of resistance, logic, language and compliance with the air of a man trying to bring intellectual rigour to the pub, grabbing at the misty answers before the closing bell rings.”


 
As regards emergent punkers Socket, I’ve previously summed them up as “female-fronted firecrackers (who) don’t worry about anything like (angry, disenfranchised boredom and frustration), specialising in a hell-for-leather guitar pelt with capacious Lust For Life drumming and barely controlled chant-yelling.” That’s probably a bit reductive. For a start, they’re female-founded and female-focused as well as female-fronted (with unassuming, supportive drummer Morgan the only bloke in the lineup).

Read the ‘Beautiful Freaks’ interview here for more insight into the intertwining (or lack of it) of their band work with their assorted Fine Art and game music studies and the happy melding of schooled and unschooled musicality within the band. I suspect that you’ll get more out of that than you will out of this Bandcamp posting.


 
Adding to the texture, there’s offstage artwork, writings and chat from grassroots rock zines/nascent promoters ‘See You Mate – Yeah, See You Mate‘, and ‘Some Might Say‘, and from activist/theatre person Maya Harrison, with more to filter in in due course.

* * * * * * * *

Incredible Society For The Exploration Of Popular Song presents:
Haha Sounds Collective + Blueprint Blue + Laetitia Sadier
The Amersham Arms, 388 New Cross Road, New Cross, London, SE14 6TY, England
Saturday 9th June 2018, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

HAHA Sounds Collective + Blueprint Blue + Lætitia Sadier, 9th June 2018Part of the broader HAHA musical empire operating out of central Hackney (also including a studio and an independent record label, HAHA Sounds Collective are a new, experimental choral project and supergroup of art-pop-moonlighters exploring avant-garde arrangements. Led by Victoria Hamblett (singer for NO CEREMONY///), and Cathy Lucas (singer for Vanishing Twin, Fanfarlo and Innerspace Orchestra) with input from Syd Kemp, the choir and fully integrated band also includes Lætitia Sadier (more on her later), Clémentine March, Iko Chérie and various unnamed “past and present” members of Ulrika Spacek, Pollyanna Valentine, Broadcast, Blue House, Viewfinder, and Younghusband.

Their first project is a songbook version of David Axelrod’s 1970 jazz-funk cantata ‘Earth Rot’… and when I say jazz-funk, I’m not talking slap-grooves and plastic synth burbles, but the close-harmony vocalising in swagged cadenzas, twang-pocketed funk basslines, a pushing saxophone backed by a battery of brass. Strangely overlooked at the time of its original release on record (apparently down to it being too much of a leap out of Axelrod’s existing groove), it’s a vaulting, stained-glass show of an album: an early venture into pop-culture ecology drawing on Old Testament text and Navajo legend, celebrating the planet and chiding humans for the mess they’re making of it. The music’s now been transcribed for voice, by ear, by Arthur Sajas of Gabelt, ÉPÉE and Syd Kemp (who also serves as HAHA’s conductor).

This will be the work’s second performance, following its debut outing at Servant Jazz Quarters in February – yes, that slipped my notice too. This one doesn’t have to slip yours. Here’s a brief clip of HAHA Sounds Collective warming up, plus a taste of the original album.


 
Ostensibly an Americana band, Blueprint Blue actually use Americana’s moods, tones and characteristics to add coloration to what are otherwise very British songs about weather, walking and mild disappointments – the kind which might appear on the mimsier kind of folk-pop album, or which would have been half-smothered in noise or feedback on first-generation shoegazer records a quarter-century ago. Like a mixed bag of British players before them (including Gomez and Mark Knopfler, but more recently Acadian Driftwood and Horatio James) they’ve certainly mastered the sonic signifiers of American roads and roadhouses; but that’s not enough to fully inhabit the form.

The trouble with Americana is that the further you are from the situations which shaped its tones and subjects (and an ocean’s breadth doesn’t help with this), the more it starts sounding like a tinkle in a hollowed-out theatre. If you’ve got to pay tribute you’ve also got to pay dues, or fake it more convincingly. Songwise, at least, Blueprint Blue need some more grease on their axles; some more heartache and heartstring damage; some more blown-away shacks and more chances to sit dripping angry tears into their johnnycakes. Otherwise, it’s going to be a life of striving to be just a bit more like Mojave 3.


 
There may come a time when Lætitia Sadier isn’t associated, first and foremost, with Stereolab. I hope so. It’s not that there wasn’t, or isn’t, plenty to admire about her former band – just to pick out a few things, there was their unabashed musicality and willingness to draw on broad varieties of tone or reference; their matter-of-fact bilinguality and ready play of ideas; and the fact that they actually managed to revisit their varied roots and to somehow advance and transmute them (something of a holy grail achievement for many musical projects, but rarely achieved). But I, for one, am glad that her post-‘Lab work (with Source Ensemble and others) has unshackled her from that post-Velvets/post-motorik/brainiac-garage pulse: the rhythm cliche that blights so many otherwise promising acts; presses them out into two unforgiving dimensions; makes those who should be innovators and developers into enmired followers.

Lætitia’s set is either an evening opener or a middle-of-the-bill event, so I don’t know whether she’s brought along the Source Ensemble for accompaniment (for all I know, many of them may be in HAHA), or whether this is going to be a chance to hear her alone and independent/unencumbered. Either way, I hope it offers us the chance to hear her as she truly is now – a belatedly great French folk singer, although one neither bonded to the obligations of traditions or the past, nor restricted from broader conceptual and textual pallettes. In effect, an embodiment of a folk impulse reborn into the current age – with all of its opportunities for research and reflection and fresher global instincts – and let loose to create.


 

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