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August 2020 – single & track reviews – Jakko M. Jakszyk’s ‘The Trouble with Angels’; Minute Taker’s ‘The Darkest Summer’; Ivan Moult’s ‘What More Could I Say?/Toxic’

14 Aug

Jakko M. Jakszyk: 'The Trouble with Angels'

Jakko M. Jakszyk: ‘The Trouble with Angels’

He’s a great asset to the current King Crimson, but it does often seem as if some of Jakko Jakszyk‘s talents are neglected there. With the band mostly concentrating on reinventing and reworking a fifty-year back catalogue, there doesn’t seem to be much room for Jakko’s original songs. A shame, since there are few better at shaping and refining plangent ballads which keep both their grand pictorial scale and their sense of shared confidences.

Heralding the release of a new Jakko solo album, ‘The Trouble with Angels’ (released via a Sam Chegini pencil-shades video) demonstrates all of this yet again. Jakko claims that it’s about “the innate urge to reach out to a stranger, following a chance meeting in Monte Carlo… combined with the monochrome memories of Wim Wenders’ ‘Wings of Desire’, where a moment of crisis is redefined by something magical.” Maybe so, but only half the story is in there. The song’s aching sadness (expressed through caressing arpeggios, a curving arm of bass, a far-off raindusting of piano and cymbal, and above all by the vast pining space which stretches the song out) contains a mingled looping cord of pain and regret, kindness and guilt.


 
It’s about the desire to do better (“a bruised romantic’s futile plan”) while owning the fact that one might still contain harm, deception and shortfall; still not sure whether the need for a coherent story might override proper self-awareness. (“Fate, vows and happy endings / turn to dust and disappear. / Yet the search for clues is never-ending, / to justify our presence here… You search for signs and keep pretending / that all these moments brought you here.”) All at once, it’s a love song to a passing moment, a hint of wrongdoing done, a confession of fallability continued; and, in that, a archetypal Jakko song. The trouble with angels who have longed to be kissed, / and every mortal distraction that they try to resist, / and the trouble with me and all the signals I missed – / the thing about angels is, they don’t really exist.”

MInute Taker: 'The Darkest Summer'

MInute Taker: ‘The Darkest Summer’

Continuing the stream of singles from his audiovisual fictional-historical ‘Wolf Hour’ project (which explores, in dream sequences, the emotional lives and social position of gay men across time), Minute Taker releases ‘The Darkest Summer’. This time, the key year is 1989 – the year of the Vatican AIDS conference, and one in which ignorance and lack of understanding regarding the disease was finally on the turn. That said, AIDS itself is never once referenced in the song: a haunting ultramarine pulse of Germanic synth pop which rhapsodies memories, swimming in ghostly warmth – “all of the years that went away / carried away with the tide… / When I close my eyes, I find you in the half-light / standing on the sand, your hand in mine.”


 
The key is the video element: a dusk-blue recounting of a beachside romance carried out amongst the sand dunes and amusement arcades, which suddenly slips into a nightmare of loss and haunting down at the waterline. Saturated colours give way to video glitches as if beset by repeated blows: a lover’s features become a screen for static and violent effacement; a man writhes in oppressive darkness as if drowning and trying vainly to beat his way free.

There are shades, though not explicit ones, of The Communards’ For a Friend: the song, especially in its video incarnation, is trip-wired by shockwaves of loss. You can draw your own conclusions about what brought it on (the swathing of a huge impersonal pandemic, or the small cruelties of people’s individual failings) since the song itself is not giving anything more away. Instead, it focuses in on the furious, futile attempts to cling to the brilliance of what was lost; to fix it in time and to fix oneself to it. “I’d stay this way forever / as long as you were by my side. / (Oh) we’ve got the summer, baby / (oh) if you wanna waste some time… / don’t talk about the future, we can leave it all behind.”

Ivan Moult: 'What More Could I Say?/Toxic'

Ivan Moult: ‘What More Could I Say?/Toxic’

Previously known for his own kind of singer-songwriter confessionals (a succession of neo-folk baroque songs in the Nick Drake/David Gray vein), Ivan Moult seems to have been infected with a different enthusiasm during coronavirus lockdown. Already the owner of a dreamy, slightly weightless voice, he’s now bouncing and slurring it around the back of the mix for a decidedly Americanised remodelling.

Behind the reverbing “doo-doo”s of his backing singers and the electric country-telegraph-blues guitar he’s now favouring, ‘What More Could I Say?’ initially seems to meander delightfully within its classic framework, like Glen Campbell coming unstuck at Sun Studios. Once you get past the murmuring slurs, the high flutters and momentary keenings, though, you’re left with a true-to-form evocation of the wobblings of love. Its yearnings and its grumps, its desires and trepidations of settling on what might be unreliable ground. “Is it all in my mind / or are you sending me signs,/ ‘cos I don’t want to be that guy… / The way you turn your shoulders, you’re gonna loose smoulderings in my senses… / Are you staying over? / What I wanna know is / whether this is more than a lie…”

 
Not content with that, Ian dials up the reverb even more for a cover of Britney Spears’ Toxic that’s part slowcore country and part space rock, and therefore pretty much a hundred per cent ‘Twin Peaks’ Roadhouse. Discarding the brassy energy in favour of the high, lonesome sound is a kind of masterstroke, transforming it from a tingling celebration of forbidden fruit and remaking it into a dread-stricken mourning over addiction’s pull. Perhaps it always was, but giving it a touch of the Hank Williamses (or perhaps the Michael J. Sheehys) doesn’t hurt. Well, in a manner of speaking, it doesn’t.

 
Jakko M. Jakszyk: ‘The Trouble with Angels’
Inside Out Music (no barcode or catalogue number)
Download/streaming single
Released:
14th July 2020
Get it from: download from Amazon; stream via Apple Music or YouTube
Jakko M. Jakszyk online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Last FM YouTube Deezer Google Play Spotify Instagram Amazon Music

Minute Taker: ‘The Darkest Summer’
Octagonal Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
14th August 2020
Get it from: Minute Taker shop
Minute Taker online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM Apple Music YouTube Vimeo Deezer Spotify Instagram Amazon Music

Ivan Moult: ‘What More Could I Say?/Toxic’
Bubblewrap Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Released:
14th July 2020
Get it from: download from Apple Music, Google Play or Amazon Music; stream via Soundcloud, YouTube, Apple Music, Deezer, Google Play, Tidal, Spotify and Amazon Music
Ivan Moult online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Last FM YouTube Vimeo Spotify Instagram Amazon Music
 

May 2020 – single & track reviews – Heavy Lamb/Jesse Cutts’ ‘CONFINEMENT-release4’; Jack Hayter’s ‘Let’s Go Shopping’ (Sultans of Ping F.C cover); Billie Bottle sings ‘Ted Hughes – Wind: Upheaval Imminent’

11 May

Jesse Cutts/Heavy Lamb: 'CONFINEMENT​/​release4'

Jesse Cutts/Heavy Lamb: ‘CONFINEMENT​/​release4’

The fourth helping of Brighton psychedelia from the Confinement Tapes series is more Heavy Lamb, and more Jesse Cutts. Or perhaps it’s the other way around. As was the case last time, while Jesse isn’t the only Lamb player the line between what’s him and what’s Lamb is blurring into the inconsequential. Certainly ‘All Dust’ is an actual Heavy Lamb piece at least: revisited, re-arranged and re-seasoned by Jesse and the other remaining Lambkin (John Gee), with Jesse’s mum, frequent collaborator and core Confinementeer Jo Spratley back on lead vocals, as she was for last month’s take on Cardiacs’ ‘Odd Even’.

It’s tempting to suggest that they should make it a permanent arrangement: Jo sounds happier doing Lambwork than she does in any other project, and the song itself is a delightful complication, unpacking plentiful musical material from inside a sleek indie-pop/rock shell. Threes against fours, sudden teases of hot spaces; voice keeping inside the chords but finding any conceivable space to hop around inside there; Propelled by Jesse’s cunning, slippery bass the chords themselves obligingly fold over and flip into new spaces so as to give the melody more space to roam and loop back. The Cardiacs influence is strong, but so’s the love for any batch of raucous goodtime English sunshine-pop. The lyric’s as complicated, digressive and warm as the music; something about fragile hearts surviving on the tide, something about continual replenishment. So far, it’s peak Lamb: not just an ideal bridge between rock disco and broader music, but great fun in its own right.


 
As with ‘All Dust’, the two instrumental pieces also contained in the package are new recordings, all played in their entirety by Jesse; in contrast to some of the more archival odds and sods on Confinement Tapes releases, these were only put together this month. In ‘Gutter Pigeon’, wobbled piano encountered during a downpour switching into orchestrated chord clambering, a lazy little pavement circus. After a shimmery start, ‘Small Things’ compresses and unpacks an album’s worth of development in a single six-minute tune. Lovely. If there’s a prog tone to all of this, it’s in keeping with those leisurely Kent’n’Sussex prog tones from Canterbury, Herne Bay and all of the other Mellow-on-Seas these kind of sunny benevolent English meanders come from.



 
From up the Thames estuary (and following his life-blasted, gutter-country cover of ‘The Dark End of the Street’ at the end of last month), Jack Hayter continues his lockdown broadcasts with a visit to 1990s Irish indie. As he recounts, “in 2004 an American band provided the British with a national anthem… ‘Mr Brightside’. Back in 1992 an Irish band did the same thing with ‘Where’s Me Jumper’. In the time of Corona we’re not dancing in the disco bumper-to-bumper. Neither are we going out shopping much… so this is all a bit pants, really. Dunno why I did this.. and I played bum notes too.”


 
Yes, the bum notes are obvious (not least because Jack lampshades each one of them with a quirk and a chuckle), but his warmth, humour and charm – even via webcam – are so engaging that it’s all forgivable. More importantly, it’s what he brings to the song that matters more than a finger-slip or two. The original Sultans of Ping version of ‘Let’s Go Shopping’ – the product of young men imagining a contented, domestic afterlife for a reformed raver and pillhead – almost vanishes under the sweet conscious hokiness of its string arrangements and its honky-tonk drum click. Jack’s version (basic voice and guitar) gently trims off the hints of irony and any tongue-in-cheek trappings.

As I mentioned last time, few people have such a skill at uncovering the tender core of a song. Watching Jack’s treatment is like watching a great little bit of subtle pub theatre story unfold. In his hands, it’s no longer something simple and jolly, but something grown touching and tender. Love for one’s wife, a nostalgia for wilder times but no regrets of any kind; embracing grown-up responsibilities (and burdens) with a sunny chuckle – “you can push the trolley – and I’ll push the pram.” And then, after this cheerful jaunt, lazy and affectionate, the cloud comes: lockdown bleakness casting a shadow over Jack’s face for a moment as the world shrinks and chills, and even dull everyday pleasures become fraught with peril. “Let’s go shopping, / we can wish away our fears. / Let’s go shopping, / the shops are really… near.” Jack plays this cover down as some kind of throwaway. Nothing he ever does is really a throwaway.

Billie Bottle‘s life has been in flux for a while – the transition from “he” to “they” to “she”, the rearrangement of day-to-day living and bands and dressing and sundry ways of doing things. Still, Billie’s an unfailingly positive and proactive character (as shown in her series of songs with non-binary musician/activist Kimwei – the most recently-aired one being here) and most of the unsettledness had eased down just before the plague blew in this spring.

From indoors, she’s just revealed some multi-layered new work taking on and reflecting both her innate calm and musicality, and the impact of an unsettled world. For now, though it’s just a lyrics video, with Billie announcing “well me lovelies, it feels like the right time to share one of the projects that have been on the go here in Bottledom over seven weeks of UK lockdown. My auntie read me the Ted Hughes poem, ‘Wind’, down the phone and I was struck by its power and pertinence. It blew itself into a kind of song, ‘Wind: Upheaval Imminent’. May you also be filled with its gustiness!”

As a member of Mike Westbrook’s band, Billie’s an heiress to his chamber-jazz poetics as well as to the playful jazzy lilt of the Canterbury sound. Both were well in evidence on last year’s ‘Grazie Miller’ EP, and they’re just as clear on ‘Wind: Upheaval Imminent’, a Hughesian account of a storm which “wielded / blade-light, luminous black and emerald, / flexing like the lens of a mad eye.”). Initially it’s an interplay between Billie’s high androgynous tenor and a sketching, dabbing piano; with drums, subtle blocks of organ, a near-subliminal bass, and a few judiciously-placed sound effects and concrete-instrumental coloration making their way into the mix.


 
Mostly, though, it’s the words and the voice. Billie responds to a setting in much the same way that Robert Wyatt handles a cover, and her carefully-timed leaps from note to note (all with an underlying, broken-up sense of swing) recapture the poem’s sense of awe; its trepidation and exultation, its illustration of the way that fragility shades strength. (“The fields quivering, the skyline a grimace, / At any second to bang and vanish with a flap: / The wind flung a magpie away and a black- / back gull bent like an iron bar slowly. The house / rang like some fine green goblet in the note / that any second would shatter it.” ) She uses the sprung challenges of jazz – the rhythm eddies, the intrusion of unexpected harmonic currents – to dig into the hinted upheaval in Hughes’ words.

As with the poem, the music ends unresolved – “now deep / in chairs, in front of the great fire, we grip / our hearts and cannot entertain book, thought, / or each other. We watch the fire blazing, / and feel the roots of the house move, but sit on, / seeing the window tremble to come in, / hearing the stones cry out under the horizons.” Structurally brilliant, captivatingly emotive, and an excellent marriage of text and music, it’s one of the best things Billie has ever done in a persistently ripening career.

Heavy Lamb/Jesse Cutts: ‘CONFINEMENT-release4’
The Confinement Tapes, CONFINEMENT_release4
Download/streaming single
Released: 4th May 2020
Get it from:
free/pay-what-you-like download from Bandcamp
Heavy Lamb/Jesse Cutts online:
Facebook Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM

Jack Hayter: ‘Let’s Go Shopping’
self-released (no catalogue number or barcode)
Video-only single
Released: 10th May 2020
Get it from:
currently view-only on YouTube
Jack Hayter online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM YouTube Vimeo Deezer Spotify Amazon Music

Billie Bottle: ‘Ted Hughes – Wind: Upheaval Imminent’
self-released, no catalogue number or barcode
Video-only single
Released: 11th May 2020
Get it from:
currently view-only on YouTube
Billie Bottle online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Bandcamp Last FM YouTube Spotify Instagram Amazon Music
 

May 2020 – EP reviews – Mikrokosmos/Babyskullz/Cola Ray vs. MUMMY’s ‘CONFINEMENT-release3’ (“mysteries which slip into shadowed corners”)

7 May

Mikrokosmos/Babyskullz/Cola Ray vs. MUMMY: 'CONFINEMENT-release3' EP

Mikrokosmos/Babyskullz/Cola Ray vs. MUMMY: ‘CONFINEMENT-release3’ EP

Following their pair of releases last month, Brighton’s Confinement Tapes project is back for a second round – this time with Confinementeers Jo Spratley and Bic Hayes joined by honorary family member Chris Anderson (of Worthing’s Crayola Lectern), who’s also worked with Bic in Brighton kosmische juggernaut ZOFFF alongside what seems like a good half of Brighton’s psychedelic contingent (and, occasionally, The House of Love’s Terry Bickers).

(The third original Confinementeer, Jesse Cutts, has his own follow-up single too, but more on that later…)

Unlike the archived cover versions refurbished for the previous EP, ‘Bright Fivers’ is an all-new, all-original April recording in which Chris contributes as the anagrammatic Cola Ray, collaborating with Bic and Jo’s MUMMY. Initially, it’s his arpeggiating pianos (distanced and tinny, as if pulled from a dusty old 78) which dominates ‘Bright Fivers’; a solemn setting for Jo’s singing, which is loaded with both trepidity and authority. That’s only the prelude, though, and it’s severed from the rest of the piece by a jump-cut edit as loud and merciless as a sucker punch or an axe blow. You even hear the clunk as the mood shifts; Jo switching abruptly into deadpan recitation against a Bic backdrop of guitar static and wind texture, as impassive as the prophetess taken over by the voice of the prophecy.

Whether sung or spoken, the sentences are broken off; dark, punching surrealist gobbets of foreseeing and ruin. “Silence in the air. / Things endure, things evolve. / Between the slopes fivers fly up onto the dream floor. / Fire spreads her text of flame as serious as food / Our towers of graph paper fold up into the silence, / delicate as the girl who leaves the stone and the water – / and the bright moan of the green, / the collapse of a black age. / In the end we never know what we know.” It sounds like something buried deep in peat in order to time-travel; transmitting a warning, or possibly a testament.


 
‘The United Kingdom’ is (mostly) another eleven-year-old recovering from Jo Spratley’s Babyskullz solo project: one which just happens to fit in with ‘Bright Fivers’. It’s another recitation, delivered by Jo to pattering drumbox and orchestrated in minimal, thrifty make-do fashion. Two-finger melodica. Guttural just-picked-it up guitar lines and milk-bottle vibraphone. Cobwebby analogue synth gurgles, dub distancings and dirty blats of fireworks.

Something about the rhythm and chant suggests the cheesy old white-rap anti-classic ‘Ice Ice Baby’. Everything about the words doesn’t, as Jo narrates (in newsprint monotone) a set of disappearances. “A man who hears bells who loves cars” misses his train only to drop out of routine and out of existence; a corporate lawyer vanishes during her solo boat trip; fifty years ago, a cancer specialist who “wraps her dolls in graph-paper by the light of the moon” is last seen in car headlights by the edge of a cliff. All three are obliquely connected by hearts: their rhythms or their interruption, their presence as eviscerated occult trophies or as enigmatic markers; presumably also by the locked-up desires, secrets and clues they contain. All cases are left open; mysteries which slip into shadowed corners of modern folklore or Lynchian dreams. There’s a stress on the regular and on the irregular, but no conclusion on either.


 
As haunting as this can be (and it does build on regular repetition, an inconclusion which nags to be solved), it’s still Bic’s dark-psychedelia project Mikrokosmos which dominates this particular set, providing three tracks out of the five. Two are brief snapshot instrumentals, deliberately left incomplete or brought to dismissive halts. Recorded in 1993 during Mikrokosmos’ cramped early sessions in west London, ‘In the Machine Room’ is an jarring but strangely satisfying hybrid of claustrophobic paranoia and sweet naivety. An uncomfortable electronic hum and weirdly organic rattling (like mice beginning to panic inside a generator housing) passes into a bright nursery march played on assorted guitars, drums and bombastic little synths. For forty-eight seconds, post-industrial grot tussles with twinkly daydream.


 
I assume that Bic escaped from whatever it was that was polluting him: ‘Frag. Familiar’, from 2014, was completed nearly two decades later (long after Bic had quit London), but it missed the boat for Mikrocosmos’ ‘Terra Familiar’ abum. It’s as confusing as its predecessor. A sustained cosmic slam: a huge guitar downchord which is allowed to trail away, while delicate waltzing keyboards come forward to shine over the top. They dance with another brutally distorted guitar line – butterflies courting Bigfoot – before everything hits the wall, topples over and cuts off. There’s a farcical humour to this music. It shows you the stars but then suddenly pulls away the rug, or drops the time-clock on the telescope viewing: almost deliberately crass in the way it brings you back down to earth with a bump. I suspect that there’s a touch of reverse psychology here. To move forward properly, you have to overcome the bumps, denials and trip-ups.


 
Another ‘Terra Familiar’ outtake, ‘Cell by Cell’, is more substantial and developed: a six-and-a-half minute song rather than a peculiar fragment. It’s also a dubbier return to Bic’s Dark Star days: almost a Massive Attack take on that band’s life-scarred fin-de-siècle urban psychedelia, taking in similar elements of Hawkwind space rock and Killing Joke post-punk grimness to offset Bic’s sighing, waify sweetness. There’s a Dark Star-ish sense of resignation too, a voice-of-the-casualty effect as Bic reflects on exhaustion and disassociation, on being swallowed by routine and self-absorption. ‘Just swim, / float to the surface – / as if it’s so easy, you show me again. / But time weighs me down so gently / and all our ideas just drift away, / sinking, / lost in the moment. / Ennui is so easy / and to the end we divide. / Cell by cell to solitary worlds – / undesigned, undesired. / Islands in an ocean of thought / turning inwards defied / to meet with the gaze of impermanence eyes…’


 
The formal Confinement message for this EP is one of “a constellation of songs brought together by this rarefied time. Pulled through the thickness of life and her knowing machine. Mixed and mastered in April 2020 and flung into the dark of these ends of days. Here we are. All alone, together, as one.” As a message of solidarity, it’s an ambiguous comfort: but, as they say, here we are. Questions unanswered. Brutal breaks in expectations. People disappearing, grips gradually lost. Name it, share the names, and perhaps fight it.

Mikrokosmos/Babyskullz/Cola Ray vs. MUMMY: ‘CONFINEMENT-release3’
The Confinement Tapes, CONFINEMENT-release3
Download/streaming EP
Released: 7th May 2020
Get it from:
free or pay-what-you-like download from Bandcamp (As with all Confinement Tapes releases, any money earned goes support care funds for Tim Smith, Tim Quy or Jon Poole of Cardiacs – see previous posts.)

Mikrokosmos online:
Bandcamp Last FM

Babyskullz (Jo Spratley) online:
Facebook Twitter

Crayola Lectern (Cola Ray) online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM YouTube Vimeo Spotify Amazon Music

MUMMY online:
Facebook Bandcamp
 

April 2020 – EP reviews – MUMMY/Babyskullz/Mikrokosmos – ‘CONFINEMENT/release1’ (“the triumph of love over fear and torpor”)

10 Apr

Family. Extended. Play. For life partners Jo Spratley (she of Spratleys Japs) and the elusive/ubiquitous Christian Hayes, a.k.a. Bic (who’s played howling, whirling, stuttering textural/post-punk/psych guitars for Dark Star, Cardiacs and Levitation, as well as adding extra noisy or unearthly touchs to projects by Julianne Regan, Heidi Berry and Pet Shop Boys) – plus Jo’s son Jesse Cutts (Spratleys Japs bass player and Heavy Lamb mainstay) – coronavirus lockdown is providing an opportunity to get their musical lives in better order.

M U M M Y/Babyskullz/Mikrokosmos: 'CONFINEMENT​/_release1'

M U M M Y/Babyskullz/Mikrokosmos: ‘CONFINEMENT​/_release1’

Being stuck at home on the Sussex coast means the initiation of the Confinement Tapes. They’re unearthing sundry old recordings from hard drives, biscuit tins, gutted harmoniums or wherever else they may have stashed or forgotten them. They’re polishing them up, and getting them out into the world, while simultaneously raising a bit of money for the ongoing care of various ailing Cardiacs members. (All cash raised from this is going into the support funds for Tims Smith and Quy, as well as the recently beset Jon Poole – if you want to save the Confinementeers a bit of trouble, you can always donate directly via the latter links and just download this lot for free afterwards).

Clearly the Confinementeers see this as something of a resurrection – Jo, in particular, has kept a very low profile for the past year (despite the Spratleys’ triumphant return to action in 2016) and for the past decade or so Bic has been more noted for low-key backups within (or behind) other people’s projects, rather than his own. In their Bandcamp text, they make metaphorical allusions to pregnancy and labour, to inward journeys, the delivery – in all senses – of a new world, and the renewal of loving connections. In many respects, what they actually seem to be talking about is the triumph of love over fear and torpor, and the way in which music embraces and enables this. What you get as this process begins is a window onto the particular, vivid field of English psychedelia which the Confinementeers belong to, both separately and together, and the sense of rootedness and inspiration which offsets emotional paralysis and impels action. I guess that that’s one of the reasons why the first Confinement release is a trio of cover versions – drawing on inspirations and altered perspectives both English and American, and on the soothings, sympathy and compassion behind apparent nonsense and weirdness; and then providing their own synthesis.

Microkosmos is Bic on his own. I could argue that Bic’s work reached a luminous plateau during the short brooding mid-‘90s life of Dark Star (with their atmospheric tales of vision casualties and burnout cases) but he’d be entitled to argue back. Since then, he’s put out three Mikrocosmos albums – scattered meditative space-dust to Dark Star’s supernova, they shucked off the full-band musculature and had Bic revelling in wan-boy spindliness and a ghostly tenderness. In fact, Mikrokosmos both post- and pre-dates Dark Star. This EP’s echoey cover of Pink Floyd’s Matilda Mother dates back to half-forgotten tapes from 1993, when Bic lived and recorded in London’s skinniest house. It’s pretty much a note-for-note cover: while the fey precision of Syd Barrett’s tones have been replaced by Bic’s drowsy starveling keen (and the Floyd’s pattering remnants of beat-band rhythms have been replaced by drumless harmonium roll and wasp-buzzing noise effects), the melting sleepiness and neediness of the original are absolutely recaptured, from the dusky organ washes to the glissando acid harmony vocals. It’s still centred on childlike wonder, and the pang of interrupted sensation; a door-opener.


 
MUMMY is Bic with Jo. They brought out a couple of EPs three or four years ago; strange, slowed-down skeletal garage-goth songs, like the workings of a pair of fasting spiderborgs, or like a distracted feminised/de-brutalised Swans. In this 2015 outtake, they’re reworking an early Breeders song, Oh! (which also happens to share a title with a Spratleys song). The strumming spass-country feel of the original (melancholy fiddle, close-ups, and of-the-moment neophytery) is replaced by MUMMY’s use of drum machine, Gothic reverb and distant angle-grinder guitar sheeting. Jo’s abstracted alley-queen vocal, emotional but enigmatic, is also very different from Kim Deal’s just-rolled-out-of-bed slur. What can one do with the peculiar original lyric, apparently the words of an insect urging others to run and live despite overwhelming and incomprehensible perils? Relate it back to plague fears and to resilience, I reckon.


 
Babyskullz is Jo on her own: and although this is the first we’ve heard of this particular project, Abade is an eleven-year old track, so Jo’s been incubating her skulliness for a long time now. A 2009 take on a song by the Cardiacs psych-folk spinoff (and Spratleys Japs precursors) Sea Nymphs, this is the most directly familial cover on here. While the Breeders and Floyd covers may be the more familiar songs – and carry more of the psychedelic/indie kudos – this one is the most directly satisfying. Reinvented here as a trio of electronic harmonium, bossa-flavoured drum machine and throaty-to-celestial Jo chorale (punctuated by the surge of waves on Brighton beaches, and with a flurry of suspiciously Bic-ish feedback at the end), it keeps faith with the gentle walking pace and sympathy of the Sea Nymphs original. Its fractured lyric keeping step with the wounded, offering solidarity and – like Oh! – an offbeat encouragement. “And though he walks the mid-day sun / he carries his own vile dungeon around / with him and he’s of / all the more reason to be full of life, full of sound and fury. / Don’t be long, / where were we? / Where we belong.”


 

MUMMY/Babyskullz/Mikrokosmos: ‘CONFINEMENT/release1’
The Confinement Tapes, CONFINEMENT/release1
Download/streaming EP
Released: 8th April 2020
Get it from:
free or pay-what-you-like fundraising downloads from Bandcamp. (Update, 9th May 2020 – these tracks were made available in the short term and are currently unavailable – if and when they’re restored, I’ll also restore the soundclips. Other Confinement Tapes items are available in the meantime.)

MUMMY online:
Facebook Bandcamp

Babyskullz (Jo Spratley) online:
Facebook Twitter

Mikrokosmos online:
Bandcamp Last FM
 

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.


 

* * * * * * * *

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.”



 
* * * * * * * *

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.




 
* * * * * * * *

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…

* * * * * * * *
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.


 
* * * * * * * *

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.


 
* * * * * * * *

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.

* * * * * * * *

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
 

September to December 2019 – upcoming rock/rocktronica gigs – Teeth Of The Sea and The Utopia Strong live in London (5th September) plus further Teethings in Brighton (with Mulholland), Rochester (with Rekkliner and the closer we are to dying) and Brussels (6th/13th September, 4th October); and The Utopia Strong running cross-country with Matters, EWEI and Reidy Scott Duo (8th September, 8th/11th-13th November, 18th-21st December)

30 Aug

Brassy, growling psychedelic/techno/rave-rockers Teeth Of The Sea erupt back up again at Oslo in Hackney, accompanied by The Utopia Strong.

Teeth Of The Sea have long been darlings of the interface between trippy ‘tronica and rock bite. Here’s what I’ve said about them before: “Are they noise? are they rave? are they dream-metal? are they what you might’ve had if Miles Davis had rashly agreed to a Foetus production job?.. a craggy yet celebratory electro-psychedelic throb from a full-band rock lineup embracing techno, polytextured brass, analogue synthwarp, tough corners of metal, and dance imperatives that span Chicago clubs and mud-sodden English field parties… extended brass-laden psych-rock voyages with techno and rave methodology, updated for twenty-first century urban impulses.. driving part-electronic instrumentals packed with wailing guitars, rasping analogue synths and effected kaleidoscopic trumpet ow(ing) equal debts to counterculture techno and to the aggressive end of psychedelic rock (with) the four-to-the-floor beats, the cavernous space echo, and the dark pop shimmer that seals their overall appeal.” They’re currently touring their fifth album, ‘Wraith‘.

The band claim that the album’s haunted: apparent psychic disturbances and psychogeographic slips during the recording sessions. They say that this resulted in a more “vivid and maximalist work”, filled with “alchemised trash, kitchen-sink surrealism, out-of-order intensity and ritualistic overtones… inspiration, irreverence and otherworldly infiltration” and ramping up their influences of science fantasy, hallucinatory welt, horror soundtrack, post-industrial boom and dark-side-folk to new heights. For the recent single – I’d Rather, Jack – they’ve brought in Trash Club/Bugged Out DJ-turned-producer Erol Alkan to grind and polish the original song into an obsidian-smooth trumpet/cyberbeat clash; or, as they put it, “an angular banger equal parts mariachi elegy and electro euphoria.”




 
The Utopia Strong are the latest product of the mutual love-in between ’80s snooker ace-turned-rock promoter Steve Davis and British psych-rock everywhereman Kavus Torabi, which has previously resulted in a radio show, a travelling DJ array and a series of gleeful mutual eggings-on. This, however, is the first actual band that’s emerged out of the friendship – partly as a result of Kavus enticing Steve (at the age of 60) to make the jump from avid music fan to actual music maker, and partly due to Teeth Of The Sea’s Mike Bourne seducing Steve into the block-and-build/sculpted-noise world of modular synthesizers. On paper it sounds like a wheedle too far; in practise it’s actually pretty delightful. Some of this is down to the recruitment of the third man in the triumvirate, Michael J. York, whose previous work (with transgressive ritualists Coil, Shirley Collins-backing folktronicists Cyclobe, interstellar/subaquatic space-rockers The Stargazer’s Assistant and ecstatic droners Teleplasmiste, as well as some live-guest stints with Kavus in Guapo) has expanded his own modular synthwork by winding in enchanting folk elements on skirling bagpipe and woodwind.


 
The music that’s emerged so far – all of it instrumental, but as communicative as a collective crowd singalong – is charged with a beaming, benevolent enthusiasm. Beyond those immediately recognisable Torabi guitar cycles and sundives (sitting generously back in the mix, encouraging the electronics to billow forward), its synthwork and pulsations recall space disco, early Jarre and Cluster, electro-Hillage and the 1981 stars-in-glass futurism of Simple Minds, pre-bloat. Konta Chorus, for instance, isn’t too far off 70 Cities As Love Brings The Fall; a gentle pounding punctuated by electronic drawer-zips and guitar tremulosity, by beatific recorder riffs and piano cycles. More aural beatification comes from Brainsurgeons 3, its beckoning three-note bass riff and sustained guitar anchoring nearly eleven minutes of building aerial-cosmic chitter: a gradual build of ecstatic layering synth bips, whoops and rackets with a bright future in its sights and a sunrise of bagpipes at around the nine-minute mark.

All of this is imbued by an atmosphere of blissful cynicism-slaying love. You can often appreciate friendship within bands. It’s rare, however, to get the kind of opportunity which The Utopia Strong offers: to literally hear what that friendship sounds like.


 
The evening’s bolstered by the efforts of the Black Impulse DJ team: visiting from the Dalston branch of multi-city broadcasters NTS with “the soundtrack of two American friends living in London… transatlantic camaraderie and a laid-back meander though metal, noise, trashy blues, prog, hardcore, hip-hop, free jazz and beyond.”

* * * * * * * *

Teeth Of The Sea have another date lined up immediately afterwards in Brighton, supported by the ringing sweet-surf guitar-and-drums curlicues of translocated Channel Islands experimental post-rockers Mulholland (as well as one other yet-to-be-announced act). They’ve also got a concert in Brussels the following week; and one in Rochester in early October accompanied by experimental rock quintet and “testing band” Rekkliner (proggy post-rockers with a strangely jaunty air and a yen for post-war melodics) and by audio-visually-inclined Medway dronescapers the closer we are to dying (led by Terry Lane with various other musicians drifting through).




 
Utopia Strong, meanwhile are going the whole hog by continuing on a nine-date English tour stretched and peppered across the autumn months and ranging from Cumbria (a slot at British Sea Power’s multi-act Krankenhaus Festival) to Ramsgate. When they have a support act, it’s usually Steve and Kavus themselves playing one of the DJ sets which have put them in demand from Glastonbury to All Points East to the Boiler Room and which keeps alive the memory of their ‘Interesting Alternative Show’: a perky and enthusiastic melange of mind-expanding tunes from avant-psych, avant-tronics, leftfield prog and indeed anything which pings a synapse or two.

In Birmingham, though, The Utopia Strong are supported by “gloomy dystopian” instrumental trio Matters (who, featuring former members of The Wolves allied with current members of Mayors Of Toronto, deliver electronic rock grooves that stretch from meaty guitar chunkalongs to broiling synth-throbs).

Later, in Bristol, there’s a double support. Firstly Louise Brady’s semi-ambient EMEI project: electronica which operates at that New Weird point where the bucolic shades into the neurotic and the mystical, and which regularly works a particular just-on-the-cusp-of-ugliness distortion at the point where a singing tone begins to break down into a pinking whine. Her tracks are like hillside ghosts, built up of hymnal vocal sighs, lapping interference and field recordings (mostly moist, mostly rural); Celtic-tinged accordion passages fed through Raudive wires; glass harmonicas sent through warbling distortion. The second support is the Reidy Scott Duo which unites two distinct Bristolian ambient soloists. Cork-born Aonghus Reidy, better known as Ocean Floor, writes circumstance-triggered burble-to-billow pieces for piano, harmonium, guitar, soft modular synth and other electronics (with sleep deprivation, times of day, and new instrumental discoveries amongst the initiating ideas). Live-looping guitarist John Scott usually trades as Stereocilia, bolstering his densely-effected guitar with synths and drumboxes in search of protracted, slow-wrenching psychedelic drones. This is their first ever duo pairing, so expect it to contain sorted and sifted elements of the varied solo work below…








 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Baba Yaga’s Hut presents:
Teeth Of The Sea + The Utopia Strong + DJ Black Impulse
Oslo, 1a Amhurst Road, Hackney, London, E8 1LL, England,
Thursday 5th September 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here

The other Teeth Of The Sea dates:

  • The Green Door Store, 2-4 Trafalgar Arches, Lower Goods Yard, Brighton Train Station, Brighton BN1 4FQ, England – Friday 6th September 2019, 7.30pm (with Mulholland + one other t.b.c.) – information here, here and here
  • Witloof Bar @ Botanique, Rue Royale, 236, 1210 Brussels, Belgium – Friday 13th September 2019, 7.30pm – information here, here and here
  • The Billabong Club @ Royal Function Rooms, Victoria Street, Rochester, Kent, ME1 1XH, England – Friday 4th October 2019, 7.30pm (with Rekkliner + the closer we are to dying) – information here and here

The other Utopia Strong dates:

  • Krankenhaus Festival @ Muncaster Castle, near Ravenglass, Cumbria, CA18 1RQ, England – Sunday 8th September 2019 – information here and here
  • The Golden Lion, Fielden Square, Todmorden, OL14 6LZ , England – Friday 8th November 2019, 8.00pm (with Steve Davis & Kavus Torabi DJ set) – information here and here
  • The Cluny, 36 Lime Street, Ouseburn, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE1 2PQ, England – Wednesday 11th December 2019, 7.30pm – information here, here and here
  • The Hare & Hounds, 106 High Street, Kings Heath, Birmingham, B14 7JZ, England – Thursday 12th December 2019, 7.30pm (with Matters) – information here and here
  • The Cube Microplex, Dove Street South (off top-left of King Square), Kingsdown, Bristol, BS2 8JD, England – Friday 13th December 2019, 8.00pm (with EMEI + Reidy Scott Duo) – information here, here and here
  • The Crescent Community Venue, 8 The Crescent, York, YO24 1AW, England – Wednesday 18th December 2019, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • The Deaf Institute, 135 Grosvenor Street, Manchester, M1 7HE, England – Thursday 19th December 2019, 8.00pm – information here, here and here
  • Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England – Friday 20th December 2019, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Ramsgate Music Hall, 13 Turner Street, Ramsgate, Kent, CT11 8NJ, England – Saturday 21st December 2019, 7.30pm (with Steve Davis & Kavus Torabi DJ set) – information here and here

June 2019 – assorted upcoming London gigs – Block4 and Lynda Beckett’s multi-media recorder concert (15th), Arch Garrison, Charles Bullen and Kavus Torabi play Clapham Library (15th); cellotronics-and-percussion improv with BirdWorld at Wigmore Hall (18th June); North Sea Radio Orchestra, John Greaves, Annie Barbazza and others reinvent Robert Wyatt in ‘Folly Bololey’ (27th)

11 Jun

Classical/experimental recorder quartet Block4 (featuring Emily Bannister, Lucy Carr, Katie Cowling and Rosie Land on a variety of instruments from bass to sopranino) are offering a mingled kids’ workshop and multi-media live concert – ‘The Art Of Sound’ – this coming Saturday down in Lewisham. Exploring links between music and visual art, the ‘Stargazing’ concert is a live collaboration with line artist Lynda Beckett, who’ll be creating spontaneous artwork (pursuing “sensual, the rhythmic and the non-binary” via line art in which “the glitch and the eternal return are welcome”) during the course of the show.

Block4 & Lynda Beckett: 'The Art of Sound' - 15th June 2019

While I’ve not got much info in terms of a programme, the music will be in keeping with Block4’s wide-spanning approach to genre, which in the past has mixed Renaissance and Baroque music with reinterpretations of Jimi Hendrix, “contemporary consort” ideas involving electronics, and more. It will include a new piece by Andrew Crossley, a composer whose inspirations include Zen Buddhism and a sheaf of hybrid forms of criticism (so expect something with plenty of silences and digressions, perhaps). Here’s an earlier electro-acoustic minimalist piece which Andrew wrote for sub-great bass recorder (travelling from borderline-subliminal low register to a resonant temple-horn call and back again), along with a couple of examples from Block4’s existing repertoire.

 

The workshop, taking place in the morning, ties in with the concept – allowing kids (from six-year-olds upwards) to “explore music performance, composition, drawing, and (to) creat(e) their own unique work of art to take home.” Best to book early for that one.

* * * * * * * *

Arch Garrison + Charles Bullen + Kavus Torabi, 15th June 2019The timing of the Block4 events also gives you time to slip across London (from the south-east to the south-west) on the same day, in order to take in one of the Lambeth Readers & Writers Festival gigs taking place in the atrium at Clapham Library. Back in April, they hosted the Peter Blegvad Quintet. This month, even as Craig Fortnam limbers up his North Sea Radio Orchestra for an upcoming Café Oto show, he and fellow NSRO-er James Larcombe slip on their guise as the Arch Garrison duo and head down Clapham-wards.

Arch Garrison take the implied baroque in folk baroque and draw it fully out into the light. Craig’s amplified gut-strung fingerstyle acoustic guitar playing has as much Spanish classical to it as it does bullish John Martyn counterpoint (though he’ll more readily cite African-Arabic inspirations like Ali Farka Touré), while James’ dextrous post-classical work on vintage-sounding monosynths makes joyously assured connections between chapel organ studies, progtronic flourishes and psychedelic sound webbings. The Garrison have sometimes been compared to Robyn Hitchcock and Nick Drake, and draw from Tim Smith’s eccentric, unlikely folk wellspring, but they don’t sound like anyone nearly as much as they sound like themselves. The songs, sung in Craig’s soft demotic Wyatt-esque sprawl, start with a lone walking man and travel downwards into conceptual strata of history, geography, familial relationships, art and ageing.



 
There will also be sidestepping solo support sets from Gong/Knifeworld expostulator Kavus Torabi (continuing to mine the unsettled psychedelic angst of his dark-sun guitar-and-harmonium solo EP ‘Solar Divination’ and a related upcoming solo album) and from Charles Bullen, one of the triumvirate behind Camberwell proto-punk experimentalists This Heat during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s (and, more recently, behind the band’s recently-retired latter-day reimagining This Is Not This Heat). I’ve no idea whether Charles will be singing; whether he’ll be playing along with guitar, viola, a mess of programmed samples or his clarinet: whether and how the music will connect to This Heat’s experimental jazz-prog collage polemics, the pocket-dub work he explored with Lifetones or the bright and mellow synth-rock sparkle of his Circadian Rhythms project; or even whether he’s going to be starting anew with a completely fresh slate. Anticipate anything.

* * * * * * * *

North Sea Radio Orchestra/John Greaves/Annie Barbazza, 27th June 2019

Returning to Craig Fortnam – and indeed, to Robert Wyatt – his North Sea Radio Orchestra concert is on 27th June. It’s the live British debut of the NSRO’s ‘Folly Bololey‘ project, which also incorporates Henry Cow bassist/art-rock chansonnier John Greaves and rising prog/art-ensemble singer Annie Barbazza.

North Sea Radio Orchestra/John Greaves/Annie Barbazza, 27th June 2019‘Folly Bololey’ has been around in one shape or form for half a decade, being played at arts concert and Rock In Opposition events in continental Europe, but has only just now crossed the Channel to be performed in Britain. Gently picking up, re-arranging and re-performing various Wyatt works (centring on a complete performance of the ‘Rock Bottom’ song cycle), it sets Wyatt’s flowing, unspooling songs of love, grief, plaintive nonsense and recovery against the pastoral raincloud tug of NSRO’s alt.crossover sensibilities. The results are an interesting blending of Wyatt’s mouth-music jazzing and his deliquescing, playfully vulnerable search for meaningfulness against NSRO’s own softly-yielding Anglo-pastoral formalism (which in turn echoes the open-to-all concert music of another Fortnam forebear, David Bedford).

With Craig acting as master of ceremonies on guitar and Farfisa organ, rounding out the ensemble are NSRO reed and cello regulars Nicky Baigent, Luke Crookes and Harry Escott plus Greaves band member Laurent Valero on strings and recorders and William D. Drake (the former Cardiacs keyboard wizard who turned into a touchingly surreal, avuncular chamber-folkster). Handling the tuned and untuned percussion are Gong drummer Cheb Nettles and vibraphonist Tommaso Franguelli (from Piacenza percussion group Tempus Fugit).


 
* * * * * * * *

On Tuesday 18th, cello/electronics/percussion duo BirdWorld are playing an informal set at the Wigmore Hall’s Bechstein Bar. (When I last touched on them here, they were playing the Frome Festival three years back – too long ago.)

BirdWorld, 18th June 2019

Migrating between twin home-bases of London and Oslo, BirdWorld are cellist/effects twiddler Gregor Riddell and drummer/percussionist Adam Teixeira. For a while, guitarist Alex Stuart was also in the picture; but it’s always been about the core duo, who met in Canada, discussed electronic/acoustic blendings and built from there. Aspects of improvisation, jazz, field recordings and cross-cultural music – plus experimental rock and classical and a battery of kalimbas – wing lightly in and out of their work, which has included film scoring and radio work; and (as of this year) their five-year-delayed debut EP ‘TING TAR TID’, released (in keeping with BirdWorld’s folkloric leanings) on the vernal equinox.


 
* * * * * * * *

All dates:

Block4 & Lynda Beckett: ‘The Art Of Sound’
St Mary the Virgin Parish Church, 346 Lewisham High Street, Lewisham, London, SE13 6LE, England
Saturday 15th June 2019 – children’s workshop 10.00am, concert 3.00pm
(concert free for under-18 year olds) – information here

Lambeth Readers & Writers Festival presents:
Arch Garrison + Charles Bullen + Kavus Torabi
Clapham Library, 91 Clapham High Street, Clapham, London, SW4 7DB, England
Saturday 15th June 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here

BirdWorld
Bechstein Bar @ Wigmore Hall, 36 Wigmore Street, Marylebone, London, W1U 2BP, England
Tuesday 18th June 2019, 6.15pm
– information here and here

North Sea Radio Orchestra/John Greaves/Annie Barbazza play ‘Folly Bololey’ (Robert Wyatt’s ‘Rock Bottom’)
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Thursday 27th June 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

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