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January to March 2020 – assorted London gigs – Holly Penfield at 100 Club (8th March) and with Ian Ritchie at the Fiddler’s Elbow (10th January); skewed surf, pop and acoustica with Kenny Process Team, Keith John Adams and The Happy Couple (13th January); Balkan/Gaelic folktronics with Arhai (18th January); plus Minute Taker’s ‘Wolf Hours’ in Manchester (24th January)

7 Jan

Holly PenfieldIf you missed Holly Penfield’s London launch gig for her ‘Tree Woman’ album back at Halloween last year – or if you attended and wanted to see it again – then she’s looping back on herself and staging another one at the 100 Club on 8th March. For those unfamiliar with her, here’s what I wrote (indeed, here’s what I recycled) last time.

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 The whirling mirror-glass synths and saxophones of the old days have been replaced by a gritty post-Americana rock band (which growls, gnaws and struts through her songs like a Cash or Waits ensemble) while Holly herself has mostly forsaken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

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

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



 
Holly Penfield & Ian Ritchie, 10th January 2019If you can’t wait until March, Holly and her multi-instrumentalist husband Ian Ritchie (the latter an ex-Deaf School member recently fresh off playing sax on the Roger Waters tour) will be playing another London gig this coming Friday, up at the Fiddler’s Elbow. This one will be an “experimental thirty-minute duo gig of originals with vintage ‘80s drum machine… interesting, quirky,and challenging!”

Although Holly and Ian are going out under their Cricklewood Cats moniker (under which they’ve previously released a few synth-jazz swing songs), theirs has been a long and varied partnership also encompassing cabaret, out-and-out jazz balladry, noisy rock diva songs and the bewitching sequencer-torch-pop of the ‘Parts Of My Privacy’ album. So you could expect takes on all of the above and more, including some of Holly’s newer songs. At the moment she’s on a serious creative upswing, and there’s rarely been a better time to see her than now.


 

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Kenny Process Team + Keith John Adams + The Happy Couple, 13th January 2020On the following Monday, the reunited and reinvigorated Kenny Process Team launch their own new album, ‘Travlin’ Light With… Kenny Process Team’. Actually, it’s an old one, recorded as a live session over twenty years ago with the band’s 1998 lineup but lost in the abstracted shuffle of the band’s history, which has seen members swap out, disappear, impale themselves on fences and even join Oasis.

Part avant-surf, part Afro-prog and compared in their time to both The Ventures and Captain Beefheart (while proggies will also find parallels with Television and The League of Gentlemen), there’s more on the Kenny Process back story here. In the present, with the addition of Rhodri Marsden as new guitarist (replacing the late Simon King) and thanks to his existing connections with Lost Crowns and Prescott, they’re further cementing their links with London’s current crop of art/prog/psych/cellularists.



 
Also playing is KPT labelmate Keith John Adams. Once Rhodri’s bandmate in zestful 1990s avant-skifflers Zuno Men, for twenty years now Keith has been a solo act coming at acoustic pop from a gently skewed angle, buffeting around friendly lyrical ideas like a sozzled housefly bumping against a lampshade and turning out understated little song-gems as he does so. His accidental forebears might include Robyn Hitchcock, Kevin Ayers; you might also pretend that he’d been dreamed up from some lazy Walthamstow afternoon when Leon Redbone shared a sofa with the young Bill Oddie.



 

Opening the evening is The Happy Couple, the languid instrumental duo formed by Kenny Process drummer Dave Ross and his life partner Judith Goodman, born out of two decades of inseparable love mingling with the inspiration of the Epping Forest woodscapes where they live. Judith plays a variety of open-tuned guitars, predominantly a Weissenborn acoustic slide guitar but also a 4-string tenor and a 3-string cigar box model (plus a mysterious “early English” example which suggests a rewriting of instrumental history). Leaving his drumkit behind, Dave plays a variety of mouth-held lamellophones: a classic American jaw harp, Indian morchangs in both brass and iron, a Norwegian Munnharpe and a mouth bow harp created in Devon. As for the music, it’s a relaxed evocation of companionship, glissando and boing and intersecting rhythms: or, as Judith comments, “it’s about the sounds that happen when we put our sounds together. We just create a world we want to be in.”



 
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Arhai, 18th January 2020

The following Saturday, British/Serbian electronic folk project Arhai slip into the little cellar at the Harrison to deliver their own electro-acoustic atmospheres. A two-decade-long project led by singer/composer Jovana Backovic, they were a traditional Serbian acoustic octet for their first ten years, gradually shifting into electric terrain before dissolving and allowing Jovana to form the current duo with British multi-instrumental specialist Adrian Lever (mediaeval dulcimer, hammered dulcimer, guitar, tambura, Bulgarian lute etc). Now they’re Balkan-cum-Gaelic, intertwining ancient and technological: or, as they put it “rethinking the archetypal modes of music performance in the context of modernity”. Which sometimes means they’re ultra-accessible and synth-quilty in the familiar Clannad model, and sometimes means that they’re off and racing like a cross between izvorna and a hyperspatial hip hop track.




 
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All of the above events will be in London: for the next one, you’ll need to head up to Manchester, where singer, songwriter and electronic pop creator Ben McGarvey, a.k.a. Minute Taker, is unveiling his multi-media performance ‘Wolf Hours’. Ben is no stranger to mixing theatre and music, having already presented a love-and-ghosts story on tour with ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ featuring animations from Ana Stefaniak. ‘Wolf Hours’ is an even more ambitious undertaking – “a unique performance combining mesmerising film with a dynamic live soundtrack. From forbidden love in the First World War, to the pain and rage of AIDS, to contemporary hedonism and heartbreak, ‘Wolf Hours’ explores the stories of gay men at different points in time through their dreams. This series of stunning new short films (directed by John Lochland, Joe Stringer, Kirk Sylvester, Raphaël Neal and Ben McGarvey) are accompanied throughout by Minute Taker performing an intimate musical and vocal score that both builds the atmosphere and pulls on the heartstrings. Visually explosive and emotionally thrilling, ‘Wolf Hours’ transports the audience through pleasure, grief, lust, joy and our collective historical imagination.”



 
In this interview with ‘Superbia’, Ben expounds on the approach he took when putting together ‘Wolf Hours’, which he describes as “jumbled-up memories, fears and fantasies.. It’s presented a bit like late night TV from back in the ’80s and ’90s (when anything queer was relegated to an after-midnight slot!) with different programmes and images emerging out of the static as you drift in and out of sleep… I also decided to include lots of archive footage in the show, which explores the way homosexuality has been portrayed in the media over the years… all of the stuff that finds its way into the subconscious minds of the characters as they lie awake at night, having an effect on how they view themselves and the gay community.” He’s hoping to take the show out on a broader tour much later this year, but for now this is all that you’re getting…

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Dates:

Holly Penfield & Ian Ritchie: The Cricklewood Cats
The Fiddler’s Elbow, 1 Malden Road, Kentish Town, London, NW5 3HS, England
Friday 10th January, 2020, 8.20pm
– no information links, just turn up…

Kenny Process Team + Keith John Adams + The Happy Couple
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Monday 13th January 2020, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Folk and Roots presents:
Arhai
The Harrison, 28 Harrison Street, Kings Cross, London, WC1H 8JF, England
Saturday 18th January 2020, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Minute Taker presents ‘Wolf Hours’
Hope Mill Theatre, 113 Pollard Street, Beswick, Manchester, M4 7JA, England
Friday 24th January 2020, 8:00pm
– information here and here

Holly Penfield
The 100 Club, 100 Oxford Street, Soho, London, W1D 1LL, England
Sunday 8th March 2020, time t.b.c.
– no information links yet
 

October 2019 – upcoming rock gigs in England from mathcore to magic, part 2 – The Display Team’s October tour (with Project Mork, The Mighty Bossmags, Masiro, Lonely Dakota, Mutant-Thoughts, Flag Fen, Spank Hair, Barringtone, Memory Of Elephants, Alter Ego and Vonhorn); a Jazz from Hell concert in Brighton including Son Of Ugly, BallPointKen and Fukushima Dolphin (23rd October); The Hare and Hoofe, The Galileo 7 and Ulysses in London (26th October)

1 Oct

The Display Team on tour, October 2019In the last post, I covered this month’s Octobear tour of assorted post-hardcore sproutings, plus the Portals All-Dayer of math rock, post-rock and similar.

At around the same time, London post-Zappa/post-Cardiacs jitterbugs The Display Team will be embarking on a brief east-to-west English tour of their own, delivering densely-written, yelling wrangles and conniptions of guitars, drums and heavy brass to various appreciative audiences.



 
At both of their East Anglian dates in Cambridge and Ipswich, The Display Team are playing with the same backup. One of the two bands in tow are Norwich-based Project Mork, who juggle a spasming, shape-shifting pulp-culture impasto of sung comic-book catchphrases, thrash-riffs, ska bumps, and stunt-metal guitars. The other are crunchy Warrington art punk/ska cabaret rockers The Mighty Bossmags, monster-mask-clad theatricals with leering “cirque du punk” stances and a taste for macabre chanson and heavy bursts.



 
There’s something of a different support set up in Bristol, where sleek proggy art rockers Mutant-Thoughts provide their glistening, synth-heavy groove explorations, and where Flag Fen provide psychogeographic drone. The latter is a “bio-electrical resistance project” developed by Adam Burrows and Keith Hall, featuring noise guitars atop a dirty flag of drone and rattling drums, with bits of folky recitation pulled through like a flaxen thread. There’s a backstory in there somewhere about a possibly occulted, potentially dangerous Bronze Age archaeological site with a tendency to firebug any situations connected to it. What’s less uncertain is that Adam and Keith are both former members of Bristol noise-beat outfit Big Joan, and pull in collaborators such as Mancunian industrial poet-rapper and Gnod associate Michael O’Neill, Steve James (from screeching Bristol flailers Geisha Noise Research Group) and My
Octopus Mind frontman Liam O’Connell.

 
In Oxford, support comes from post/tech metal act Masiro whom I’ve previously referred to as “a melange of prog, metal and funk grooves… if that makes them sound like early ’90s macho blokes in shorts, imagine a trio who went the other way, reframing and reappraising those elements from a confusing refracted perspective. As a listener, they make you work to get back to the sources, but it’s a compelling game of reconstruction.”. Also present are local rhythm-warping “twinkly emo-punk” trio Spank Hair. In Southampton, the support acts are straightforward London/Hampshire hard rockers Lonely Dakota and the rather more-difficult to track down Alter Ego: I’ve got something swaggering from the former, but sadly nothing from the latter.




 
In London, urban-baroque pop trio Barringtone open the show (plenty more on them, their Clor heritage and their journey from motoric cool to increasingly proggy enthusiasm is here), while Memory Of Elephants bring a multi-decker pink noise sandwich of joyous experimental metal along with them. While I can still get away with requoting myself, I’ve called them “a restless, conspiratorial mask-dance of a band” and as playing “a welter of restless multipolar mood changes and psych-cyclones with a bewildering delightful stockpile of guitar tones; from mechanistic hissing growls, fire-ribbon swishes and sudden injections of Detroit proto-punk to great woozy carousing fuzzwalls of MBV dreampop, Chinese orchestras and – at one point – what sounds like a gnarly old organ playing itself.”



 
In the late-nighter at Gloucester, support is by sharp Hereford-&-Worcester mutant-power-pop band Vonhorn. While drummer Dominic Luckman brings cult value (and a stylish precision) from his years in Cardiacs, frontman Adam Daffurn has been boinking around the Hereford scene for ages, previously leading Noughties-wave Britpop act The Dandelion Killers, who betrayed many of the same aspects as Vonhorn does: crunchy crisp pop with unexpected chords, rhythmic flicks and spiked-cream harmonies. Consider XTC and the more circus-y moments of The Beatles; consider latter-day clever-classic underground guitar pop acts like Flipron and The Downing Poole.


 
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Towards the end of their tour, The Display Team are also headlining Fresh Lenin’s Jazz From Hell night in Brighton, an “autumnal commie cocktail of jazz, prog, ska, punk, rock and psychedelia made with the help of trombone, sousaphone, bagpipes, saxophones, multiple pedals and all of the less weird instruments.”

'Jazz From Hell', 23rd October 2019

Plenty of Brighton musical fringery is springing into the spotlight for the occasion. The aforementioned bagpipes and sousaphone (stirred with a drumkit) come courtesy of pranky, deliberately obscure psychedelic wind trio BallPointKen (who are playing two sets). “Cinematic weirdcore” quintet Son Of Ugly are instrumentalists and Secret Chiefs 3 fans who’ve gobbled up and regurgitate “elements of 60’s and 70’s cartoons, spy action, noir jazz, surf and world music, sometimes in the same song.” In fact they’re less frenetic and Zorn-y than such a summary would suggest, being drawn more to the driving drama of theme songs and the glitter of exotica, thereby turning Brighton’s Lanes into swerving Prague alleyways and glittering dream-souks.

 
That just leaves Fukushima Dolphin – a full band last year, but now a drums-and-guitar loop duo fronted by the irrepressible Josh Butler (who stretches them toward a kind of energised, tuneful pure pop, whatever else happens or whatever tools they need to employ. In the current incarnation, Josh sometimes sounds surprisingly like a junior Mike Scott trying to sing his way out of a post-shoegazer’s cocoon of ‘90s indie-dance beats and dreampop echo. Earlier this year, Fukushima Dolphin were bulking up their setlist with an interleaved cover-version set, with textural art-rock versions of MGMT and Nirvana songs coming to the forefront alongside the band’s own urgent originals.


 
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For five or six years now, the various members of Kentish psychedelic troupe The Hare And Hoofe have incubated various tunes down in Folkestone, with an album finally bulging out last year. In the last week of October, they’ll be splurging it all over Islington in a London gig with fellow spirits The Galileo 7 and Ulysses.

What unites all three bands, I guess, is that they’re a collective love-letter to the glitter and stubble and mind-bubbles of a particularly British corner of ‘60s and ‘70s British rock – the clank and rough brinksmanship of garage bands, the rustle of the dressing-up box, the brickie harmonies of power-pop, the quivering flush of freakbeat. Various common enthusiasms loom large: Syd Barrett, Question Mark & The Mysterians, fuzz pedals. It’s all going to be pretty old-school, but expect enough of a surging, hairy, enthusiastic evening that nobody will mind about that.

The Hare And Hoofe + The Galileo 7 + Ulysses, 26th October 2019

Given their leader Allan Crockford’s lengthy background with those crowd-pleasing Medway garage-psych and mod-friendly bands who swirl, in a familial cloud around, The Prisoners and The James Taylor Quartet, The Galileo 7 are the least likely of the three bands to be caught fannying around dressed up as knights in armour, as wizards or Roxy Music’s vampire doppelgangers. Instead they deal in familiar bucketing Prisoners-esque ’60s musical purity: creaky electric organ swerves, fuzz pedals, tambourines and ooh-oohs. In contrast, brash Bathonians Ulysses swagger into view like the second coming of Roy Wood being cheered on by Slade (and are cute enough to confess to a liking for Wings and The Cars). They do like dressing up, and they bring with them hooky, stomping songs like rocking wooden cabinets buffed to a mighty sheen with golden syrup and sandpaper.



 
It’s got to be said that The Hare And Hoofe are the most outrightly magical and theatrical of the three, though – a kind of amicable collision of most of the above ingredients, topped by a meeting between Hawkwind, ‘Piper At The Gates Of Dawn’ and Steeleye Span (or, to pick a more recent example, Circulus on fizzing monkey drugs). If they’re garage, they’re the garage that gets transformed into Santa’s den. They’re all about jolly singalongs in which all manner of additions and interjections are poking through or going on behind. Lysergic guitar and spurting proggy keyboard figures crash around dopey harmonies, delirous mistrals of solo flute wind their way through folk singalongs; as psychedelic mixing and screeching echo froth is boosted to the max, the music changes shape and speed as if jerked into form by a solid brass gearshift. They’ll play heavy rhythm-and-blues version of eighteenth century English myths, and the second half of their debut album is a full-blown pocket rock opera of time-travelling scientists and giant laser-eyed robots. It’s called The Terror Of Melton.



 
Admittedly in magical terms all of this isn’t exactly cabalistic frenzy or New Weird hauntology. It’s more about capering blokes in pointy paper hats with moons-and-stars on. But The Hare And Hoofe are clearly enjoying the party too much to worry about this, and we sometimes need the kind of silliness which makes us nine years old again, happy, and laughing ourselves well.

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Dates:

The Display Team on tour:

  • The Stage Door, 78 West Marlands Road, Southampton, SO14 7FW, England – – Friday 18th October 2019, 7.30pm (with Lonely Dakota + Alter Ego) – information here and here
  • The Blue Moon, 2 Norfolk Street, Cambridge, CB1 2LF, England – – Saturday 19th October 2019, 8.00pm (with Project Mork + The Mighty Bossmags) – information here and here
  • The Steamboat Tavern, 78 New Cut West, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP2 8HW, England – Sunday 20th October 2019, 8.00pm (with Project Mork + The Mighty Bossmags) – information here
  • Port Mahon, 82 St Clement’s Street, Oxford, Oxfordshire, OX4 1AW, England – Sunday 20th October 2019, 8.00pm (with Masiro + Spank Hair) – information here and here
  • The Crofters Rights, 117-119 Stokes Croft, Bristol, BS1 3RW, England – Tuesday 22nd October 2019, 7.30pm (with Mutant-Thoughts + Flag Fen) – information here, here and here
  • Paper Dress Vintage Bar & Boutique,, 352a Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HR, England – Thursday 24th October 2019, 8.00pm (with Memory Of Elephants + Barringtone) – information here and here
  • Café René, 31 Southgate Street, Gloucester, Gloucestershire, GL1 1TP, England – Friday 25th October 2019, 11.00pm (with Vonhorn) – information here

Fresh Lenins presents:
Jazz from Hell (featuring The Display Team + Son Of Ugly + Fukushima Dolphin + BallPointKen)
The Green Door Store, 2-4 Trafalgar Arches, Lower Goods Yard, Brighton Train Station, Brighton, BN1 4FQ, England
Wednesday 23rd October 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

The Hare And Hoofe + The Galileo 7 + Ulysses
The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, England
Saturday 26th October 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and
here
 

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 pop/rock gigs – Lost Crowns, Ham Legion and Wryneck (8th February)

1 Feb

Lost Crowns + Ham Legion + Wryneck, 8th February 2019

I guess it’s a thorn in Richard Larcombe’s side that whenever he launches one of his complex poly-referential music projects some reductive oaf like myself strolls up, latches onto those polished, extremely upper-middle-class English vocals, and then starts comparing him to the cuddly Canterbury end of Anglo-prog – Hatfield & The North, Caravan and so on.

This is what you get, I suppose, when you’re musically versed in everything from the Copper Family to English bell-ringing patterns to mid-period Zappa to ‘90s American math rock – and when you can prove it – but when you’re also compelled to ice your lyrical cake with such floating, whimsical humorous concoctions. Almost from the start (when he was banging out strangely Donne-ian Britpop with Magnilda twenty-odd years ago) Richard has sounded as if he’s quipping and musing from an Oxbridge punt floating down ever more complicated river systems. It’s too easy to visualize him eating strawberries dipped in lysergic cream, keeping the witty punchlines coming while the landscape around him gets ever more mozaic-ed and fractalized.

It’s a little unfair to say things like that. Richard’s raised-eyebrow/bell-clear diction might make him sound smug to some ears in these resentful times, but his humour and the content of his songs are far richer, more intricate and upfront than what’s suggested by those Cantabrian comparisons. Lyrically, he’s a driven, glittering absurdist – more interested in extrapolation and unravelling substance than he is in reducing everything to fluff. Rather than offering lazy-lidded Kevin Ayers dreams (or, indeed, weightless Hatfield-ish souffles and toilet jokes), he takes snipes about synaesthesia and develops them until they collapse. He reframes and bricolages ancient bits of mythology as knockabout British arthouse films; or serenade his wife with borderline-ludicrous, self-aware stack-ups of flowery tributes. All of which gives us an anchoring point for listening: if he is icing his work with gags, it’s partially because something so musically demanding needs a little judicious sugaring.

The freshly-released debut album by Richard’s Lost Crowns project is being hailed as his best work yet. It’s certainly his most unrestrained: a barrage of word-dense songs overflowing with full-on prismatic structures and outright rock drive, as if Lewis Carroll and Flann O’Brien had called on the massed forces of Henry Cow to help them hijack Battles. While Lost Crowns sound like few bands in mainstream British rock history, current or past, they take a longer more meandering path along which you can imagine them laying some loving snags on various left-field rockers as they travel. XTC, Field Music and The Monochrome Set to These New Puritans; Gentle Giant, Knifeworld and the Art Bears. Comparisons generally water bands down, but for this one they work more as a health warning. Imagine a cocktail which didn’t dilute as you built it up, but instead made all of its ingredients stronger, brighter and brasher…



 
You can see Lost Crowns in action again – with Richard backed by a dream team of underground music crack-shots from Gong, Scritti Politti, Knifeworld and NSRO – next week at the Slaughtered Lamb. Having made their debut at an Alphabet Business Convention several years ago, they’re proud members of the sprawling and joyous musical family that runs in barking loops around the feet of Cardiacs. Consequently, you can expect to see a batch of the usual Cardiacs-ish faces in the audience. You’ll also get to see some on stage, since Ham Legion are playing support.

Longtime Cardiacs disciples, the Legion started out years ago as the perma-bubbling Little Trophy but following a drawn-out process of shedding fripperies and members, they’re now down to a power trio. All too often, they’re the extra filling in someone else’s gig sandwich. For the first time in a long while, though, they’re coming out armed with an imminent new single, Georgie Porgie. Time, perhaps to reassess them and their grunged-up take on complicated post-Cardiacs songs. A cavalcade of mood-switches and charges in and out of the unknown; a puckish delving into the traditions of English pop eccentricity, but one that’s smeared by tarry black coffee-sludge and amp crunch.


 
A surprise addition to the bill is Wryneck. To find out about them, you’d need to dig even deeper: back to the 1980s when a band with the gonkish name of Zag & The Coloured Beads romped intermittently around London’s free festival scene, playing “complicated tunes in a ragged/bluesy style” fed through the same scene’s omnivorous, hyperactive-hippy mindset. Taking a British post-punk filter, they used it to strain Zappa/Beefheart weird-juice, with memories of trad jazz and kid’s television also cavalcading through. They usually sounded like a drunken race between a squad of seven-legged camels: there was a bit of math to it, for sure (they enjoyed their shabby Brit-squat takes on the New York minimalist pulse, and their five- and seven-time signatures) but it was probably best not to take that too seriously either. After all, the songs had utterly clownish sketchpad titles like Sweaty Thing and Bernard Crapshit, which usually fitted perfectly.

(Gives the critics hives, y’know. Whether you’re aiming for analytical authority or ineffable cool, embracing a certain level of outright and intentional silliness is a bit like cuddling a hand grenade; and Dada just don’t do-do…)

Anyhow… Wryneck was what was left when various Beads dropped off the string in 1989, once keystoner Paul Howard ran dry and ran out of interest and keyboard person Robert White headed on to better-known, less squirrely things with Levitation and The Milk and Honey Band. The remainder (led by guitarist/singer/songfitter Steve Arthur), tried to get serious and to get taken seriously. Duly recast, they dumped the comedy and pulled in and lashed down the ramblings: they took fresh notes from the flourishing noise-pop of My Bloody Valentine and the ringing drive of Levitation and The Belltower, and they acted upon them. Over time, they also factored in a post-James Brown/Zeppelin sense of dirty groove. They produced a few cassettes (and those in the know remember the band as “master tunesmiths”) but, like the Beads, they never rose beyond a backroom cult. After four years – and despite no-one actually turning into a casualty – Wryneck too was missing in action. Musically, everyone kept busy with something or other, but it was only when Steve, Paul and guitar/bass mainstay Mik Tubb resurrected the Beads for more intermittent shows about a decade ago that the old chemistry came back.

These days, it seems as if Beadery and the staggered musical family around it (everyone was always overcommitted to multiple bands) is somewhat like Cardiacs culture – a big attic trunk full of oddments and puzzles which people regularly pull out and reconfigure at while. Joining Steve and Mik (and whoever else they’ve managed to persuade into this micro-revival) is Paul, who might never have been a Wrynecker before, but who seems to be one now.

Sadly the shortage of Wryneck sonic memorabilia online means that there’s nothing I can post up as an illustration of the noise they’re going to make. Lost Crowns are describing them (with tongue in cheek) as “like Mud, but fancier’. Alternatively, you could draw a few clues from the clutch of Beads tangles I’ve crammed in below. If unconvinced, you could consider Wryneck’s presence as a pop-up indulgence and reward for those grizzled old ‘80s festi-veterans in Cardiacs fandom who stayed their course and kept the faith. If you’re any less cynical, you could try saluting them as (even with the post-Beads musical streamlinings) part of a strand of English musical playfulness that’s gone uncredited for too long.




 
Lost Crowns + Ham Legion + Wryneck
The Slaughtered Lamb, 34-35 Great Sutton Street, Clerkenwell, London, EC1V 0DX, England
Friday 8th February 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here
 

January 2019 – upcoming London pop/rock gigs – The Yacht Club, Deafpony and Wild Tales (26th January)

23 Jan

The Yacht Club + Deafpony + Wild Tales, 26th January 2019The Yacht Club – playing a free show in east London this week – have been accused of sullying their math-rock beginnings. If so, that’s all for the better, especially since math-rock has only been one component in their racing musical engine. Listening back to their early recordings from 2013, it’s clear that the core has always been Marcus Gooda’s desire to express himself in tumbling, outrightly emotional pop songs: but ones which are often better suited to cascades of notes, harmonic busyness and pushbacks against rhythm.

Other people’s ideas of stylistic restriction don’t really suite The Yacht Club – their music might thrive on additional dimensions and complexity, but it doesn’t thrive on being tethered to anything in particular. Across their five year career, they’ve pushed against the grain. For a while – while transient guitarist Dale Robinson was still in the ranks – they even sounded like the early Prefab Sprout, back before Paddy McAloon’s hedge-literateur songwriting had been buffed to a glossy sheen by Thomas Dolby and he was still rolling along like a tumbleweed of Irish arguments on the way to a fine art degree, snagging against James Joyce and Captain Beefheart on the way.

Having said that, although Yacht Club arrangements have tingled and tangled – guitars following their own cunning little patterns, popping their heads out in unexpected places – Marcus has always been a more direct, less whimsical songwriter than Paddy. Rip away most of that sparkling guitar bricolage and you’re left with soft cries from the heart, a prolonged sweet-ache adolescence with uncertainties and tremulous reach-outs, but no particular questionings of self or stance. Perhaps that’s why people also sometimes slap the emo tag on them, though they’ve got little in common with bawling, punky heart-on-sleeve confessionals. Recent songs see the band very much secondary to the interplay of Marcus’ voice and acoustic guitar, with the project now sounding like a meeting point between Aztec Camera, Boo Hewerdine and Michael Hedges with a touch of latterday pop polish, occasionally crashing into melodious electric thunder.




 
In a number of respects, Deafpony resemble the headliners. Their bedrock is a crystalline-clean guitar pop sound in which even when the distortion comes sailing in for assorted breaks it sounds impeccably buffed. Theirs is a rebuilt classic guitar-pop model with a brushup, based around a studied clear melancholy and boy-gang harmonising.

This vein of songwriting tends to be full of Big Star copyists, but in Deafpony’s case they’re more like science-fiction movie clones – beautifully turned out and improved on the surface, with a slightly unsettling mannequin perfection that sets them apart from the original; several strides up the other slope of the uncanny valley. Even their hints of emo roots feel lab-tinkering, obscured by reconstruction. Similarly, their music sometimes feels like flying through an architectural model of feeling. Not phony, don’t get me wrong; but somehow they’re turning the idea of perfect pop into a kind of mysterious hinterland. If they burp onstage it’ll destroy everything.


 
Self-described as a “brand-spanking-new poppy rocky twiddly band”, Wild Tales are actually relative veterans who’ve given themselves what I can best describe as a “method facelift”. Stemming from two previous gangs of Guildford indie rockers (predominantly Trails, with some in Atiptoe) but now reshuffled and renamed, they take the rampant cavorting meanders of guitarist Iain Kerr’s original math-prog guitar lines, march them promptly into a song-forge, and hammer them briskly into slick chord-clambering new work (abundant with pop hooks, grab-riffs and frontman Adam Rains’ join-in lyrics).

As such, they’re a cheering and uplifting opening act in what looks set to be an evening of cleverness and cleanliness. You can vote amongst yourselves as to whether you’re annoyed at the cleanliness. Personally, I’m happy to take the cleverness.


 
Beth Shalom Records presents:
The Yacht Club + Deafpony + Wild Tales
The Sebright Arms, 33-35 Coate Street, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9AG, England
Saturday 26th January 2019, 7.30pm
– free event – information here
 

January 2019 – upcoming London pop/rock gigs – Rumour Cubes, Brudini and Silent Cities (24th January)

22 Jan

Not too long ago I was bitching about post-rock (probably not for the first time) and how it had been corralled – especially in its math rock iteration – by reductionists who turned it into something dour and clunking.

Rumour Cubes + Brudini + Silent Cities, 24th January 2019

At the time, one of the bands I excluded from the griping was Rumour Cubes – a conglomeration of classical refugees and of malcontents from post-rock’s straighter/blander end, aiming to revitalise the genre via honesty regarding all influences. They attempted to engage audiences (rather than passively endure them), and continually shifted their expanded lineup around by agglutinizing with poets and visual artists. Back then I hymned the Cubes’ “slow-building pastoral ecstasy”, their seeking of “a sweet spot that’s more country and roots than graphs and laboratory”, their “delightful merge-point between the rustic and the highly technological”.

Looking back, I realise that this could have backfired in that I might be making Rumour Cubes sound like a self-regarding Anglo-Americana take on the form: musical humblebraggers with fake straws in their teeth. Certainly, if you’re coming from a Godspeed You Black Emperor! perspective of stern, black-flagged resistance to death-spiral capitalism and its dirty ops, there’s enough in their arts-and-crafts wholesomeness to annoy you.

Time, then, to acknowledge the fact that the Cubes are a political band too. They’ve persistently touched on hip hop with their inviting of guest rappers into the mix, and recently explicitly identified themselves with anti-right-wing resistance via two themed singles last autumn. While they might not be growling about black helicopters, horrible winds of death and dying governments pulling us all into the chasm, they’re currently trying to push back against “the hollow nationalism that has infected our politics and allowed far-right narratives to become normalised” and aim to highlight “the true face of Brexit and Trump: racist and fascist projects that threaten our values of tolerance, diversity and freedom of expression.”

A Flicker Of Empty Flags and ¡No Pasarán! – both of which you’ll hear at their London gig this coming Thursday – sound like the first gusts of a dirty, heralding wind blowing through a cosy latterday folk session: a bit of Godspeed-ing minus the concrete dankness and the permanent frowning dusk. Still a little cosy, perhaps, but this is an honest attempt to re-engage and to grasp the nettle.



 
In support, there’s a couple of singer-songwriters. Norwegian/Thai-rooted Londoner Brudini offers melodic noir-pop in the same darkened-crooner vein of Michael J. Sheehy or David Hurn, although he’s more conspicuously glam-dazzled than either: another loper down the boulevards of Baudelaire and Jim Morrison. Rolling funk/rare-groove rhythms, watchful piano and occasional brass frame his weary, distracted lover’s voice. Last year’s Reflections encapsulates his hooded Soho-boho obsessions and the dark romantic tropes he re-imbues with meaning (“out in the night, my beautiful machine, /in the depths of your eyes, an animal on its knees”). His earlier collaborations with Californian storyteller Chip Martin – wounded, picked-out soundtracks to doomed, unsettling romantic encounters which are as surreal as they’re anonymous – seal the deal.

 
Opening the evening, Silent Cities (Durham singer-songwriter Simon Maddison) creates spooky modern-day urban dream-folk in breathy whispers and heady falsetto, wreathing it with smoke-rings of gently but insistently effected guitar and gusting ambience as his songs manoeuvre themselves in and out of magical realms.



 
Lost In The Manor presents:
Rumour Cubes + Brudini + Silent Cities
The Finsbury, 336 Green Lanes, Finsbury Park,London, N4 1BY, England
Thursday 24th January 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here
 

August 2018 – upcoming London pop and rock gigs – The Mantis Opera, Bozo Zoo, The Butterfly Wheel and Imogen Bliss (25th August); Norwood & Brixton Foodbank fundraiser with Treasure Of Woe, Carl White and Apocalypse Jazz Unit (also 25th August)

15 Aug

The Mantis Opera + Bozo Zoo + The Butterfly Wheel + Imogen Bliss, 25th August 2018There are several reasons that I’ve been following the exploits of The Mantis Opera this year. One is the music: an illuminating synth-rock rush through cunningly orchestrated post-classical complexity and brainiac alternative pop, topped with similarly cerebral lyrics which slide fizzing, thinking ribbons through philosophy, logic and linguistic theory before binding them back into more down-to-earth life situations.

If this sounds hideously dry or snooty, it isn’t. This is simply music which is neither ashamed of its own cleverness, nor too self-absorbed or chilly to invite you along for the ride. They’re among an increasing number of newish, bumping-along-in-the-underground acts who share this kind of quirky enthusiasm and possess the requisite smarts and chops to back it up. Tom O.C. Wilson, Prescott, Thumpermonkey and Lost Crowns spring immediately to mind: bands and songwriters who see nothing wrong with turning out songs with the depth and twists of playful short stories, of compressed novels-of-ideas or of meandering Flann O’Brien-esque digressions.

As regards The Mantis Opera, I’ve been chucking around terms like “wide-awake brain music” and “avant-prog keeping watch from under a dream-pop veil” and I’m not going to drop those yet, although I might have to come up with a few more if the band are going to keep up regular performances.



 
The other reason that I’m keeping an eye on The Mantis Opera is that they tend to keep interesting gig company. Whether they’re good at being invited or are inordinately good at charming their way into lineups, the band seem to have a knack for fitting onto a wide variety of different bills, and this end-of-the-month gig at Paper Dress Vintage is no exception.

Two summers old, already pegged as “rust-bucket swing” and compared to “Mark E. Smith manning the Hot Five”, Bozo Zoo play rootsy jazz-folk and rhythm & blues on drums, double bass and comfortably sleazy sax. Hollering, theatrical vocalist and off-the-wall lyricist Mark Warren (who also handles the inevitable, ubiquitous ukulele) ensures that they tilt into a similar realm of bulging-vein vigour and twisted circus berserkery to that of The Tiger Lillies. A few decades ago he was bobbing about in the kind of lucky-dip underground bands that showed up on Org Records compilations: now he’s singing up budding cabaret gallimaufries of music hall songs and ditties about chess grandmasters. On top of all this, Bozo Zoo seem to have fused Spinal Tap with Schrödinger, via recent online mutterings about “a new drummer but we’ve also kept our drummer… but it ain’t a band with two drummers… but we have got two drummers… it’s complicated.”


 

Hailing from east London and extensively festooned with mysticism, The Butterfly Wheel aren’t quite the esoteric revelation that they’d like to make out. Plenty of their surface schtick – the Gothic theatrical trappings, the Early Music dirge-wails, the stripping away of Western pop tropes in favour of frowning middle-continent antiquity – is more than familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of Dead Can Dance (or of the host of intense, tousled imitators DCD spawned over three decades). What is refreshing is the shifts underneath those surface. A female duo, their songs reshuffle and transform archetypes for an increasingly feminised new time. There’s the sense of old stone patriarchal gods and legends being chipped away at; of more hopeful alternatives being birthed out of the sea; of the stories sitting up and rewriting themselves. We’ll have to see where it leads.



 
From Camberwell and Coldharbour, Imogen Bliss reshuffles Eastern European folk songs and tufty pop covers on voice, mandolin and loop station. The examples below are Armenian and Balkan/Romani, sandwiching a reworked Cure hit: the latter may not sound a great deal different to those pixiedreamgirl uke songs which still bog down every other cinema advert, but Imogen sounds awake and illuminated rather than sun-drenched and casually dreamy. I’m guessing that she’s got other tricks up her sleeve…

 
Paper Dress Presents…
The Mantis Opera + Bozo Zoo + The Butterfly Wheel + Imogen Bliss
Paper Dress Vintage Bar & Boutique,, 352a Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HR, England
Saturday, 25 August 2018, 7.45pm
– information here and here
 

* * * * * * * *

Norwood & Brixton Foodbank Fundraiser: Treasure Of Woe + Carl White + Apocalypse Jazz Unit, 25th August 2018On the same night, there’s this. Lovers of righteous noise, here’s your chance to sample some noise that’s a bit more righteous…

“London promoters Wrongpop and Chaos Theory have gotten together for a one-off special event to raise money for Norwood & Brixton Foodbank: some of the best new underground bands out there have agreed to bring you their sounds for this excellent cause, so it’ll be a phenomenal evening with extra positive vibes. 100% of ticket sales go to the charity.

“Formed from members of Long Slow Dissolve,The Love Me Tenders and Witchfist, Treasure Of Woe play stoner and psychedelic jams on guitar and drums. We’ve seen this duo doing their thing at The Facemelter last September and they just keep on recording their jams and releasing them online, so have a listen at the link and get down for the full live experience.


 
Carl White are a guitar/drums experimental rock duo, originally formed in Brighton and now based in London. Over the years they’ve shared the stage with acts such as Nitkowski, Alpha Male Tea Party, Flies Are Spies From Hell, Witching Waves and The Mae Shi.They’re currently working on a new EP, from which there will be a single/video released in the next couple of months.


 
Apocalypse Jazz Unit were started in 2013 by Rick Jensen as a recording project, after nearly three years of not making music. After numerous albums, Rick recruited some new and old musician buddies and started playing live. AJU quickly went from a small group to an over-the-top collective of psycho improvisers, with up to seventeen members at any one time. To date, they have released over seventy albums and have played a ton of gigs. AJU harnesses the spiritual fire of free-jazz of the ‘60s, mixed with a bit of disco when the mood takes them. Always high-energy and with a heavy sense of humour, AJU can easily swing from delicate and sombre, to full-blast horn mayhem.”


 
Wrongpop & Chaos Theory Music Promotions present:
Norwood & Brixton Foodbank Fundraiser: Treasure Of Woe + Carl White + Apocalypse Jazz Unit
The Black Heart, 2-3 Greenland Place, Camden Town, London, NW1 0AP, England
Saturday 25th August 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here
 

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