Those frowning former commercial and light industrial blocks in Wood Green have been enjoying a change of function in recent years as the area gradually, awkwardly morphs into a London art hub (while rents and avaricious developments continue to push the city artists and shoestring events out of the near-east-and-centre). I’m guessing that this will only accelerate, with the artier spaces around the backstreets near the library and the old gasometers acquiring glossier licks of gentrification as the money follows. At the moment, it’s hovering in the grey area between pop-up and plush: for now, slightly outré things can still happen.
One such thing has been happening for a few years now, with the astonishingly assured art-pop quartet Society Of Imaginary Friends running musical soirees at the high-rep vegan eaterie Karamel Café (as they do in other venues dotted around London – Soho, Clerkenwell, Kingston – and occasionally in the Orkney Islands). It’s taken me a while to catch up with them.
Society Of Imaginary Friends presents:
‘Time Saturated Soiree’: The Astronauts + Taktylos + Society Of Imaginary Friends + Beth Jones + Marius French + Nighmar Ascousky + Onjdrew DJ set
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Friday 4th November 2016, 8.00pm – free entry – information
Frequently tinged with some degree of rebel rhetoric and counterculture spirit (albeit dappled, in turn, by outright theatricality), on this occasion the Soiree makes a tongue-in-cheek grab for the occult aspects of British daylight saving. “As the clocks go back, we celebrate together the extraordinary gift of an extra hour of life from the God Chronos. Of course this means that not only do we have an extra hour in bed on Sunday but an extra hour is also available to enjoy our Time Saturated Soiree on 4th November. We will feature artists abundant in time and time signatures of the non linear variety.”
Society Of Imaginary Friends are curating from somewhere in the middle of the bill. I’m surprised that I haven’t found out about them before, since they’re right up my alley – dramatic song stories and glam-chanson-prog-folk operas which can be as smooth as mountain lakes or tossed around like cartoon galleons (that is, when they’ve not turned inwards and intimate, for creepy journeys into the shadowy nooks of the house or the cupboard under the stairs).
Orkney-born singer Louise Kleboe, (who recently wowed an audience at Organ Reframed in a teamup with William D. Drake) serves as powerful female voice and figurehead. The music (drawing on Orcadian lays and Balkan jags as much as it does English art pop and psychedelic folk) is underpinned by a constantly flexible electro-acoustic palette of piano, accordion, guitar and violin; plus sundry keyboard samplers which cough up sleight-of-eardrum aural tricks and tinkles to take us deeper into the band’s conceptual toybox. Kate Bush would be an obvious comparison; so, too, would a braver Goldfrapp; you could also stir in the Gothic intimations of Danielle Dax (if not so much of the thorny racket) and add shades of the overt theatrical danger which Holly Penfield has brought to both her singer-songwriter work and her cabaret shows.
Below are two Society songs – the smoothly rhapsodic The Moors (something to draw in and caress the New Agers) and The Easy Way (to grab them by the lapels and flip them over for a shakedown). The fact that the latter can slip into a video cut from footage of Elem Klimov’s harrowing war film ‘Come and See’ – and thrive there – speaks volumes about its own strident power.
In line with the soiree theme, the Society will be presenting a miniature new temporal project of their own. “The briefest of rock operas – ‘On The Third Stroke’, based on the life and times of Ethel Jane Cain, the very first speaking clock, (‘glamorous and exact, the living embodiment of precision… she sat between the tick and the tock… swinging in the hammock strung between the Sun and the Moon…’, as ‘The Idler Magazine’ put it.” No preview samples are available, unfortunately, but here’s that original clock with that original voice…
Society guitarist Brian O’Lenehan puts in double duty on this concert, since he also plays in skeletal-spacey instrumental fusion band Taktylos. The Society hail them as “live from the event horizon”: a little more helpfully, the ‘Guardian’ describes them as “Philip Glass meets Soft Machine”.
It’s a fair description of a band in which a collection of London musicians – the others being journeying drummer Tom Cambata, wind-synther Rod Arran, German keyboard player Chris Bihlmaier and bass guitarist David Rees – seem to gingerly and painstakingly align their ingredients (squishy late-‘70s fusion tootles, pared-back guitar shapes, mathematical percussion arrangements) into place as if they were jellied blocks of unstable explosive, rather than chunks of musical conversation. I’m not sure whether the resulting minimalist leanings are the results of being tentative or of attempting to dab a tune into shape with the fewest and most economical strokes (like a Japanese ink drawing). Still, assuming that Taktylos don’t go roaring off down more standard bulked-up jazz-fusion lines in the future, they’ve got themselves a potentially interesting niche.
Topping the bill (I think) are the most recent iteration of The Astronauts – longstanding post-punk absurdists spun off from onetime new town Welwyn. Formed in 1981 (and, despite langours, never quite gone since then), they’ve sometimes had to singlehandedly hold up the town’s early ‘80s anarcho-punk reputation, standing defiant and crooked to the “affluent deadzone” qualities into which the place has sleepwalked. It’s kind of de rigeur to include ‘Rock & Reel’s description of front man/last man standing Mark Astronaut as “the post-punk Dylan of Welwyn Garden City” and add that certain people also risk a Prestwich verbal maiming by mentioning him in the same breath as Mark E. Smith.
He’s actually much more straightforward than either (perhaps “a kitchen-sink Robert Calvert” might be a better description). As for the band, while they never quite match the driving, morphing truculence of The Fall they’re accomplished post-punk chameleons – flicking between West Coast punks or hippies within the same few bars, suddenly huddling in dank subways with the young Paul Weller, or morphing into a studiously awkward Zombies as they back Mark’s singular satellite-town vision.
This particular evening may be bolstered with actor, autism ambassador and mordant performance poet Cian Binchy dropping by for a return appearance; meanwhile, Nighmar Ascousky (hyperactive polymath, Soiree evening regular, fantasy geek and friendly Laveyan Satanist) will be taking time out from his acting, modelling, painting, film-making and singing work in order to deliver some “shock and awe” poetry (and perhaps just take the opportunity to sit down for a while). Beyond that the evening starts to rampage further into the astrological and mystical, with returning “fabulously, beautiful, talented, rising star singer/songwriter Beth Jones“ representing the sun, and “supremely talented multi-instrumentalist Marius French“ covering the same task for the moon. There’s a chance of further off-the-list performers; and there’s a DJ set until the early morning.
Regarding Beth and Marius – they might be gigantic talents, or even catalysts for sympathetic magic; but I can’t find more information on either of them anywhere. Those glowing references could all be hype, or the Society could be lining up a genuinely impressive bill. The chances are that it’ll be the latter, since the roll-call of previous Soiree performers is a delightful array of present-and-correct, past-blasts and future shinings. Just to give a partial picture, past shows have included music contributions from William D. Drake (the endearing grand-and-gawky ex-Cardiac keyboard wizard); harpsinger Sheila Moyan; Virginia Plain (a.k.a Nick Watkinson, cross-dressing ex-frontman of late-’70s power-pop heroes The Jags); psychedelic keyboards warrior Kosmic Troubadour; Kirsten Morrison (rising folk-baroque queen and Lene Lovich ally); and woodwind player William Summers (who’s had Circulus, The Loki Broken Consort and Princes In The Tower in his bagful of bands). The same run of shows have had recitation, chats and rants from (among others) Camden rapper Lid Lid, poets Keleigh Wolf, Ernie Burns and Gabriel Moreno, and ‘New Internationalist’ artivist/activist/commentator Jamie Kelsey Fry.
Best to enjoy this kind of thing while it lasts. Who knows – it might not be long before occasions like this are pushed out by encroaching cash and a tidal wave of karaoke salsa; but even if that turns out to be so, I don’t think the Society will take it lying down. They’re irrepressible. We’d see them pop up somewhere else, soiree in tow; somewhere where they were least expected.
* * * * * * * *
Meanwhile, showing no signs of slowing down (and still in residence in long-gentrified central Islington), Daylight Music returns after its half-term break.
Arctic Circle presents:
Daylight Music 237: Revere + Alasdair Maclean + Colm Mac Con Iomaire
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 5th November 2016, 12.00pm – free event (suggested donation: £5.00) – information
Slightly tweaked press release:
“When it comes to influences, Revere has had a firmly open-door policy over their fifteen years of existence, incorporating chamber pop, dance music, post rock and progressive elements into their trademark wall of sound, garnering a great live reputation for their multi-layered wall of sound. After fifteen years, two albums, nine EPs and a clutch of singles (and with around fifty musicians having passed through the band), they’re amicably calling it quits, with the current and final six-piece choosing to play their last British show at Daylight Music.
“In the middle of the bill is a set by Alasdair Maclean, singer, songwriter and guitarist for legendary band The Clientele, who formed a long time ago in the backwoods of suburban Hampshire (initially playing together as kids at school, later rehearsing in a thatched cottage remote from any kind of music scene but hypnotized by the magical strangeness of Galaxie 500 and Felt and the psych pop of Love and the Zombies). Alasdair still recalls a pub conversation where the band collectively voted that it was OK to be influenced by surrealist poetry but not OK to have any shouting or blues guitar solos. From that moment on, they put their stamp on a kind of eerie, distanced pure pop, stripped to its essentials and recorded quickly to four-track analogue tape.
Instantly identifiable, The Clientele sound like no one else, although they are cited as an influence by bands as diverse as Spoon, Panda Bear, The War on Drugs and the Fleet Foxes. It’s been said that the greatest bands always create their own individual sound; The Clientele have gone one further and created their own world.
“In a crowded field of outstanding Irish fiddle players and interpreters of traditional music Colm Mac Con Iomaire is unique. From school trad band Kila and street busking to wildly popular days playing fiddle with The Frames, his voice is unmistakably his own and his music bears distinctive creative hallmarks which have as much to do with his personality and character as with his impressive technical mastery, musical authority and exquisitely expressive playing. Almost twenty years ago Colm struggled to describe his early attempts at composition and made a distinction between ‘tunes’ and ‘music’. With his father’s people coming from the Irish-speaking Conamara Gaeltacht, Colm learned ‘tunes’ (the dance music which makes up much of the instrumental repertoire in Irish traditional music) and sean nós unaccompanied singing; on his mother’s side there was classical instrumental ‘music’ on the violin and piano. The creative tension between these two notions produced a player, composer and film score arranger who seems always to have been aware and inspired by the dualities in his musical and cultural world.
“During the late nineties Irish broadcaster TG4 offered Colm opportunities to write scores for film, allowing him to allowed him to progress and mature as an orchestrator of his own compositions. The compositions Colm made for these productions came from an interior place whose deep roots lay in traditional Irish music but also in an older way of life and thought, consciously mediated through his personal life lived out in the contemporary space. The title for Colm’s first solo album ‘The Hare’s Corner/Cúinne an Ghiorria’ signified not only an acknowledgement of the importance of that old culture but also an urgent plea for ‘the hare’s corner’ in contemporary culture… a still place where space and time are set aside for something beautiful for its own sake. The title of his second, ‘And Now the Weather’, refers to the introduction to the final item on radio and tv news bulletins, viewed as a means of keeping the distress of reality at bay: it is a title riven with irony.”