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November 2017 – upcoming free rock gigs – Tonochrome back in action in London (25th November); All Hail Hyena host a quadruple-headed evening in Preston with Dirty Bare Feet and Soldato plus the return of Sleepy People for their first gig in sixteen years (11th November)

2 Nov

Tonochrome, 25th November 2017

Tonochrome
The Spice of Life, 6 Moor Street, Soho, London, W1D 5NA, England
Saturday 25th November 2017, 7.30pm
– free entry – information

London progressive pop band Tonochrome have been away for a while – they were last onstage towards the end of 2013. This new gig towards the end of the month is something of a return and reshuffle – it’s their first with the newest in a run of bass players (Andres Castellanos), and an opportunity for singer Andres Razzini and his other cohorts (keyboard player Steve Holmes, drummer Jack Painting and, on guitar, transdisciplinary musical wanderer Charlie Cawood) to show us the latest developments for a promising band. Over an increasingly interesting pair of EPs, Tonochrome have explored glam pop, aspirational indie and a touch of expansive prog, building towards a definitive, textured statement. I don’t know if they’ve got there yet, but this show is free, so get in and see what they have to offer.


 
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Dirty Bare Feet + All Hail Hyena + Sleepy People + Soldato, 11th November 2017Hyena Inc. presents:
Dirty Bare Feet + All Hail Hyena + Sleepy People + Soldato
Ships And Giggles, 3 Fylde Road, Preston, Lancashire, PR1 2XQ, England
Saturday 11th November 2017, 7.00pm
– free entry – information here and here

Meanwhile, up in Preston, herky-jerky odd-rock band All Hail Hyena (who’ve made an initial name for themselves by storming and/or organising assorted Tim Smith benefit gigs) continue their work as promoters Hyena Inc. via a free DIY gig celebrating “one night of pop-punk-rap-reggae-soul-psychedelic space ska nursery-rhymes rock lo-fi metal bossa-nova prog tri-fi music from four diverse and very different brilliant northern bands”. As well as putting on the night and providing the lollipops, they’re performing themselves, bringing new songs of “neon lipstick, the thrill of a stolen kiss, and powerful pop ballads infused with filthy guitars and hot sex”. The gig will be closed by another growing Preston institution, Dirty Bare Feet, playing an audience pleasing “myriad of rap, soul, reggae, dance, pop, disco and jazz”; and opened by Chorley hard rockers Soldato (“four hairy northerners making noise with wood and wire”).




 
Of most interest to me, however, is that this gig marks a long-overdue return to live action by Tyneside underground heroes Sleepy People. Teasers and tinkerers at the coalface of psychedelic pop, they’ve always been a wilfully eccentric bunch; mingling the countercultural clowning and cosmic glissandi of Gong with bursts of twinkling synth melody, pulses of ska and post-punk guitar chug, set off by moonstruck flute and held together by Paul Hope’s odd yet jaunty songs (which chunter along like sugar-frosted tank engines). The last time they trod the boards was back in 2001: reunited with original singer Tiny Wood (better known as the frontman for ongoing cult-glamsters Ultrasound) they’re seeing what the contemporary world offers them, and vice versa.

Sleepy People, 11th November 2017Despite a strong work ethic Sleepy People never got as far as they should have done during their first lease of life; partly thanks to a constant stop-start of personnel turnover (with Paul and Rachel Hope the only consistent members) but also due to their continual goofiness and repeated nose-thumbing at any conception of cool. Daevid Allen might well have applauded, but the insouciant clowning tended to obscure surprisingly thoughtful songwriting which – while it happily dipped into a soup of esoterica from Gurdjieff to Freemasonry – frequently raised an arch, quizzical eyebrow at contemporary concerns. Among the tales of the frieze of myth and of men turning themselves into birds, the Sleepies also sang about the encroachment of shopping malls, about futile attempts at freezing yourself into immortality, or about modern-day nightmares in orphanages and retirement homes. At other times they’d cast numinous halos of wonder around everyday occurrences (a winter walk home which slowly becomes freighted with significance; the joy of a child running across a beach; or, perhaps on the same beach, the uncomprehending travails of a newly-hatched turtle perilously navigating by the moon).

Things can only be improved by the ongoing reunion with Tiny (who actually rejoined for part of the band’s final stint as Blue Apple Boy around 2002 before they called it a day). Striving to be Wakefield’s own David Bowie and its David Thomas; possessed of a hulking, dramatic stage presence; singing in foreboding and flinty tones like a pop crooner reincarnated as a battlefield crow… he’s always been the best, and the edgiest, foil for Paul’s songwriting. The tail end of the Blue Apple Boy period saw them writing together, Tiny’s more personalised art-punk anguish proving the perfect sour complement to Paul’s sweet, playful tunefulness: let’s hope that they’ve kept that up for the revival.

As for Sleepy People on the web, they’ve still got much to improve on their Facebook page (you’re better off checking them out on Wikipedia) and embeddable delights are few and scattered. Here’s what I could come up with, though – a twirl through Halfway World (with Tiny’s original replacement Phil Sears); recent rough’n’ready rehearsal footage of Every Wave Is Higher On The Beach and Nicky’s Little Army; and half an hour of grainy, raucous footage of a Tiny-fronted band lineup in 1993 (complete with three-fifths of the original Ultrasound).





 

October 2017 – upcoming gigs – Anglo coastalysergia and Americana with Crayola Lectern, Dr Spacetoad and Billy Bad Band in Hove (21st October); Austrian psychprog with Blank Manuskript in Ramsgate, Leicester and London (26th-28th October)

16 Oct

We’ve just had a dose of daytime pink skies across Britain – appropriate, given the psychedelic tone of this quick posting.

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Crayola Lectern + Dr Spacetoad + Bad Billy Band, 21st October 2017
The Real Music Club presents
Crayola Lectern + Dr Spacetoad + Billy Bad Band
The Brunswick, 1-3 Holland Road, Hove, East Sussex, BN3 1JF, England
Saturday 21st October 2017, 8.00pm
– information here and here

The veteran of innumerable bands from punk to power-pop to latterday Anglo-psych, Chris Anderson finally found his core niche during the mid-Noughties as Crayola Lectern. Unspinning wistful, sweetly lugubrious stories of life, loss and learning dusted by his own gently lysergic leanings, he’s crafted “what psychedelic music would have sounded like had the Edwardians invented it.” Having been accompanied in the past by a shifting pool of live collaborators including assorted Cardiacs (Jon Poole, Bic Hayes, Jo Spratley) and Brighton psych luminaries (Joss Cope, the Rodes brothers from Clowwns and Rect.angle), his current cohorts are Alistair Strachan (on brass, percussion and necessary noises) and drummer-turned-synth-moonlighter Damo Waters.

The alter-ego of songwriter/actor/painter Paul Francis, Dr Spacetoad is another long-standing Brightonian: a discombobulated, identity-swapping cosmic troubadour who’s sometimes veered into Dada-styled space-rock in cahoots with Captain Sensible and who (as Jean Paul Dionysus) once played a key role in the London acoustic revival of the late ’80s. Expect him in his guise as melancholy garret-haunting singer, hopeless romantic and nifty fingerstyle guitarist.

Opening for this double bill of life-worn inner-spacemen is Bad Billy Band, who offer a more straightforward blend of Anglo folk-rock and electric Americana: a soften-upper.





 

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For further cosmic ventures, go discover the glow-mossed, castellated structures of Austrian art-rock sextet Blank Manuskript next week as they pass through England as part of a European tour. Polyinstrumentalists who layer flutes, tapes, trombone, reeds and glockenspiels into their standard rock armoury, they’re an intriguingly witchy concoction, balancing pretty much equally between grand prog and freak psych. Some of the band are happy to dress like Napoleonic dandies, a la Hendrix; others look like punk-metal flotsam. All of them sit on long and involved instrumental passages with an air of bugged-out wonder, spraying out rivulets of fingertapped guitar, floating ruminative keyboard lines or murmuring breathlessly arcane lyrics.. Sometimes they display their love of classic British ‘70s prog, pulling off expansive structured Yes or Caravan moves. Sometimes they thunder, spasm and gibber like one of the post-Can, post-industrial, post-metal neo-psych bands that Baba Yaga’s Hut tend to put on. You don’t often see that particular gap being bridged.


Dates:

  • Ramsgate Music Hall, 13 Turner Street, Ramsgate, Kent, CT11 8NJ, England, Thursday 26th October 2017, 7.30pminformation
  • The Musician, 42 Crafton St West, Leicester, LE1 2DE, EnglandFriday 27th October 2017, 7.00pm (with River Chickens + Those Amongst Us Are Wolves)information
  • The Water Rats, 328 Grays Inn Road, Kings Cross, London, WC1X 8BZ, England, Saturday 28th October 2017, 10.00pminformation

Only the Leicester show features any support acts, and I’ve scraped up a little info about them. Despite being founded on a rumbling, frowning Mogwai-esque post-rock base of dour guitar minimalism, Coventry four-piece Those Amongst Us Are Wolves tend towards being post-post-rockers, needing little persuasion to roll right into classic-rock bodybuilder riffage. Cheerfully charismatic Ashby rockers The River Chickens, on the other hand, are travelling the other way: moving away from Cult covers toward their own honey-sweet heavy power-pop. Judge for yourselves below.



 

November/December 2017 – more assorted Smithery – BarmyFiveseveN play Tim Smith at Connector V, Amsterdam (2nd November); Spratleys Japs’ Wonderful Winter Wonderland tour of England (14th-17th December)

15 Oct

Coverage of the complex, perverse and joyful musical work of the sadly incapacitated Tim Smith – whether inside or outside his mothership Cardiacs band – frequently figures in here. It’s good to bring you all more about his continued crossover from cult status to something wider: this time, with news of a conservatory jazz gig in Amsterdam and of the continued afterlife of Spratleys Japs.

Connector V, 2nd November 2017

Broedplaats Lely & Steim present:
Connector V
Steim, Schipluidenlaan 12-3E, 1062HE Amsterdam, Netherlands
Thursday 2nd November 2017, 8.00pm
information

“Composers are not necessarily dead. They also do not necessarily write symphonies in D flat minor in a 4/4 time signature.

“Tim Smith, frontman of the British band called Cardiacs, is a great composer who wrote lots of music permeated with energy, humour, beauty, Britishness. By people who only partly open their ears (or their minds for that matter), his music has been defined as being “chaotic”. The opposite is true, however: it is strongly organised music and all one needs to be able to do is count past four (and not forget about prime numbers). This challenging mix of punk, prog rock, orchestral and live electronic music (also known as “pronk”) will be performed by BarmyFiveseveN, a “small big band” ensemble of around fifteen players from the Conservatorium van Amsterdam, armed with live electronic extensions.”

Connector V is part of a monthly series at Steim: regular readers should recognise this particular one as a follow-up to the Smith-covering set by Alex Brajkovic Ensemble at Amsterdam’s Jazz Ensemble Festival back in April, and it does in fact feature most or all of the same players, put together by rebel prog professor Jos Zwaanenburg. No-one seems to have recorded/posted evidence from the last time, so I can’t show you how it went – but as before, I can give you some very loose indications as to how this concert might might turn out by referring you to English Rose Orchestrations’ string quartet version of one of the featured pieces, The Duck And Roger The Horse.


 

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Spratleys Japs, 14th-17th December 2017The following month, Spratleys Japs consolidate the success of their Brighton and London reunion shows over the last couple of years by setting out on a bigger, broader English tour taking in Yorkshire and the West as well as the south east, with a mass of current/former Cardiacs and friends coalescing as support around the tour dates.

Read more about SJ here: in brief, though, they’re a short-lived and swampy alternate-universe pop project (part alien folk maunderings, part glam-punk punch and part spindly antiprog) which Tim put together in the mid-’90s with then-girlfriend/muse Jo Spratley. Now revived by Jo and a collection of Brighton art rockers, they’ve got a second wind and have been rattling through fresh gigs partially in tribute to Tim and partially because the enthralling, infuriating puzzle-box songs have a peculiar life of their own.


As regards the backup, looming raconteur Stephen Evens brings his scowling, sardonic British pop along to the London, Brighton and Bristol shows (possibly with full band in tow for all of them). In a similar vein, Yorkshire dark-melodrama rockers The Scaramanga Six pile in at the Huddersfield date, while the Brighton show also sports vigorous dream poppers Hurtling and noisy art-rock goons Ham Legion (the latter performing their Syd Barrett tribute as “Vegetable Men” (plus another acoustic set from Kavus Torabi, squeezing in time in between fronting Gong, Knifeworld and his radio broadcasts). At Bristol there’s another onetime Cardiacs guitarist, Jon Poole, possibly bringing both solo stuff and one-man versions of his clever-pop work with The Dowling Poole; plus ZOFFF (the reverberant south coast kosmische/deep-psych band featuring Crayola Lectern‘s Chris Anderson and yet another ex-Cardiac six-stringer, Bic Hayes).

As with most Cardiacs-related events, these give you a cross-section of a under-celebrated ongoing British sub-scene; stretching from surprisingly accessible, sharply written latter-day take on Britpop right through to mantric pedal noise and squirts of lysergic space-cadet juice. Here’s a selection of sundries from all concerned:









 
Full dates:

  • The Parish, 28 Kirksgate, Huddersfield, Yorkshire, HD1 1QQ, England, Thursday 14th December 2017, 7.30pm (with The Scaramanga Six) – information here and here
  • Exchange, 72-73 Old Market, Bristol, Avon, BS2 0EJ, England, Friday 15th December 2017, 7.30pm (with Jon Poole + ZOFFF + Stephen Evens) – information here and here
  • The Green Door Store, 2-4 Trafalgar Arches, Lower Goods Yard, Brighton Train Station, Brighton BN1 4FQ, England, Saturday 16th December 2017, 6.00pm (with Kavus Torabi + Stephen Evens (full band) + Hurtling + Ham Legion As Vegetable Men) – information here and here
  • The Windmill, 22 Blenheim Gardens, Brixton, London, SW2 5BZ, England, Sunday 17th December 2017 (with Stephen Evens + others tbc) – information t.b.c.

UPDATE, 18th October – apparently we can also expect a couple of imminent fundraising Cardiacs cover versions from Spratleys Japs and Stephen Evens (Odd Even and Two Bites of Cherry), plus other surprises they’re keeping a little tightlipped about for the moment.

Meanwhile, Cornish psychedelic folkie Emily Jones (another Spratleys friend from previous gigs) has been added to the Brighton concert, which now also features a Torabi/Steve Davis DJ set. Support for the Brixton Windmill show in London is going to be thrashy prog-pop stuntmeisters The Display Team and rapidly rising Windmill favourites Black Midi. Below are a couple of moments from Emily and the ‘Team. (There’s not much more I can give you about Black MIDI. They’re so new that the paint’s hardly dry on them, and their Soundcloud page is still empty; but I did manage to establish that they’re an experimental/instrumental rock five-piece of teenage Croydonians and that they’re “purveyors of the darkest dreamscapes”…)



 

October 2017 – upcoming English gigs – Holly Penfield chops and changes in London (18th October); Minute Taker’s multimedia love-and-ghosts story ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ in Glasgow, London & Brighton (15th, 21st, 22nd October); Cardiacs’ ‘Marenest’ fundraiser showing in Bristol with The Scaramanga Six (21st October); and something on Paul Diello

7 Oct

Holly Penfield presents:
‘Holly Penfield – Spooky Little Girl’
The Royal Vauxhall Tavern, 372 Kennington Lane, Vauxhall, London, SE11 5HY, England
Wednesday 18th October 2017, 8.00pm
– information here

Holly Penfield: 'Fragile Human Monster', 18th October 2017For a while, there, I was spun back. Twentysomething years ago, I was a regular at Holly Penfield‘s ‘Fragile Human Monster Show’ (having first caught her performance on a random Edinburgh night back in 1992). Ostensibly based around sleek ’80s synth’n’sequencer pop, her shows had a number of twists. More like ’70s songwriter confessionals, they stirred yearning jazz and blues strands back into a genre which had mostly eschewed them. Based around Holly, her Kurzweil keyboard and a saxophonist (usually her husband Ian Ritchie, who’s had a hand in everything from Scouse artniks Deaf School to the Roger Waters band and the ‘Lonely Planet’ theme), they also had a compelling and bizarre Californian theatrical edge which variously sat in your lap and purred, wailed over your head, broke down in front of you, or made you feel less alone – always in the same set.

If you can dig up Holly’s long-lost debut album ‘Full Grown Child‘ – a brash early ‘80s Chinnichap production – you’ll hear an Innuendo-strewn, pop-belting cross between Suzi Quatro, a bleach-blond Rizzo, ABBA and full-on coke-blizzard-era Stevie Nicks. ‘Fragile Human Monster’ was the fallout from all that: an onstage realisation of Holly’s independent followup ‘Parts Of My Privacy’, in which she and Ian went back to her bluesier and torchier San Francisco roots, merged it with Ian’s techno-pop skills and teased out a series of passionate, cracked paeans (plus jarring digressions into performance art) about fear, instability and how the lost rebuild their lives and make their way. Tremendously tuneful but at odds to the music biz, the ‘Fragile Human Monster Show’ was that rare thing: outsider music with genuine craft and skill. It was also pretty queer and culty, drawing a diverse squadron of waifs and strays of all stripes (including me) to Holly’s home venue on the Kilburn High Road. Eventually it wore Holly out: putting it to rest, but still hanging onto her stubborn kookiness, she applied her remarkable voice and stage presence to a new career as a jazz cabaret diva. She’s made, I think, just one revisitation to Monster territory since (which you can read about here).

Holly Penfield: 'Spooky Little Girl', 18th October 2017Late this summer, though, Holly announced that she was bringing the old show back for an evening in October, though she wasn’t clear about how she’d be doing it: perhaps reworked for the acoustic jazz band she’s used for the last couple of decades, or perhaps with her going it alone (with the Kurzweil and sequencers brought out of mothballs and will go it alone). At any rate, I thought I’d be going along – possibly in search of my own confused, similarly theatrical mid-twenties self, perhaps to see if I got along with him a little better.

However, everything was upended in early September following Holly’s jolting appearance in the auditions for ‘The X-Factor’. Ubercamp, leather-clad and singing Meredith Brooks’ Bitch, she went full-on nightclub and came on to Simon Cowell like a kinky Weimar nightmare with a riding crop. Inspired by the experience (and not a little miffed at the mocking edit that made it to TV) Holly’s now claiming that “the evil jazz cabaret performer in (me) has clawed its way to the surface”, and has morphed the October show into an upbeat Halloween “Spooky Little Girl” special (billed as “cabaret classics, spooktacular rocking favourites and self-penned songs as only our Diva can deliver them”).

I can’t help thinking that an opportunity’s been lost (or steamrollered) but I might show up anyway. She’s still promising to pepper all of the knowing cornballery with old FHM songs; several existing set standbys (such as Stay With Me, seen below in a torch-jazz arrangement from 2009) originated in the old show, and a new-ish piano/vocal song Confessions (posted up online a year ago) suggests a creative leaning back towards the old days of torch and bearing witness. Regardless of any of that, there’s still the voice; there’s still the onstage magnetism. Should be some sort of a blast.



 
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Minute Taker: 'To Love Somebody Melancholy' (live show)Also during the midmonth, acclaimed LBTQ folktronicist Minute Taker (aka Ben McGarvey) takes his multimedia show ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ out on tour in England and Scotland. I missed the news about his summer tour (which spiralled out from his homebase of Manchester, taking in Oldham, Chorlton and the Didsbury Art Festival plus a trans-Pennine appearance at Hebden Bridge) but managed to catch the news about his autumn followups in Glasgow, Brighton and London (including an appearance at the seventeenth century “actor’s church”, St Pauls in Covent Garden). Here’s the story:

“Singer-songwriter Minute Taker and BFI award-winning animation artist Ana Stefaniak have created a haunting, modern fable told through projected film and an epic live band performance of Minute Taker’s upcoming album… Expect to be immersed in a dark and magical world of strange animated characters and piano songs brimming with ethereal harmonies, fizzing synthesisers and orchestral twists.

“In ancient Greek philosophy Aristotle first popularised the notion that artists, poets and writers were of a melancholic disposition. In the middle ages melancholics were thought to be possessed by demons if they could not be “cured” of their depressive tendencies. Set on a desolate seashore, ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ explores the notion of the archetypal artist as he journeys through the euphoric highs and the self-destructive lows of his creative cycles. A new romantic relationship brings the artist the contentment he craves but it soon becomes apparent that there’s something else lurking in the shadows; a ghostly, shapeshifting third entity whose form is entirely dependent upon the artist’s current mindset. Sometimes a saviour, a source of inspiration and hope, sometimes a savage, ruthlessly determined on driving his lover away.”


 
Ben comments “one of my biggest influences when creating ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ was Kate Bush’s masterpiece ‘The Ninth Wave’. Such a wonderfully magical, otherworldly and at times frightening journey into the unknown. I never tire of going on this adventure with her. Come join our own dark adventure, inspired by Kate’s.”

Dates:

  • Websters Theatre, 416 Great Western Road, Woodlands, Glasgow, G4 9HZ, Scotland, Sunday 15th October 2017, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • St Paul’s Church, 29 Bedford St, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9ED, London, England, Saturday 21st October 2017, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Latest Music Bar, 14-17 Manchester Street, Brighton, BN2 1TF, England, Sunday 22nd October 2017, 7.30pm (with Paul Diello) – information here

Additional support comes in Brighton comes from the award-winning “pop/folk/fabulous” singer-songwriter Paul Diello, who recently wowed the Brighton Fringe Festival with a sold out run of five-star-review shows and who promises “a special set of songs” for the occasion. Citing Madonna, Bowie, Kate Bush and Anohni as inspirations, Paul is an increasingly powerful artistic presence in the LGBT underground, operating in the febrile interface between cabaret, chart pop, queerness and visual staging (in particular, via video). Provocative and insidious, with an ear for the brazen tunes of ‘80s synthpop, Paul reminds me of a tougher Marc Almond – albeit with the sturdy physique of a dockside bouncer – while his songs are sharp confections of fists, flowers and standing your ground.


 
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Kate Bush seems to have become a recurring presence in this thread. Perhaps I’m alone in this, but I’ve always drawn a vague connecting line between ‘The Ninth Wave’ and Cardiacs’ 1989 album ‘On Land And In The Sea’.

Despite their common south London roots and the bare three years between them, there doesn’t initially seem to be much linking Bush’s silky-petalled Fairlight-driven art pop with the shrill, switchbacking, horns-and-artpunk firepower of Cardiacs, let alone their urchin squawks versus her sensual coo (though I’d have loved to have heard them cover each other). Dipping beneath the surface, however, reveals plenty to unite the two work. There’s the common and commonly transmogrified debt to English prog (in the structural ambition, the little flourishes of grandeur, and the enthusiastic mining of everything from twinkling tunes to violent psychedelic riffs, looming synth orchestration to jigs and jittering dreamscapes). There’s the common immersive marine motif – even when the sea’s banished from the foreground, it’s always present to embrace, propel, threaten or dissolve the bobbing characters within the songs. And although ‘The Ninth Wave’ centres pretty clearly on the near-death experience and night journey of a single castaway, while ‘On Land…’ zig-zags crazily over suburbs, shorelines, skies and inlets while weaving through multiple blurred perspectives (from the individual to that of a kind of profoundly skewed post-war national consciousness) in both works a half-sleeping, half-waking British mythology gets forked up and worked over anew, with a relentless filmic curiosity.


 

‘On Land And In The Sea’ provided most of the songs played in Cardiacs’ 1990 concert film ‘Marenest’, which brings its own chaotic theatrics to a fundraiser showing in Bristol. Live support comes from brutally grand, macabre Yorkshire rockers The Scaramanga Six, bringing a punchy live set based in part on their new crowdfunded ‘Chaotica’ album.

If ‘On Land…’ really was intended as some kind of concept album, it hid the fact under a typically Cardiacs welter of invention and disinformation. In contrast, ‘Chaotica’ wears its conceptual heart on a stained sleeve – the Scaramangas have been pretty open about its roots in “an abstract story roughly hewn from a concept of a dystopian island society. A place where everything has fallen into ruin, yet people still seem to have the same preoccupation with the trivial crap they had before. The population trudge through a chaotic existence on top of each other with absolutely no hope of a better life. Society is reduced to its base behaviour yet people still crave superficial fixes. The human condition carries on regardless. There is no outcome, no lessons to be learned. Familiar?” ‘Chaotica’ might not quite be a Brexit ‘Quadrophenia’, but it’s clearly leaning that way.


 
As is generally the rule with Cardiacs-related events these days, all profits on the day (including bonus donations by bucket or booking-stage gifting) are going to fund the care of Cardiacs’ driving force Tim Smith as he continues to battle against the aftermath of heart attacks and stroke. Note that the venue is quite hard to find, hidden as it is away behind the rubbish bins in a nondescript Bristol car park. Some Cardiacs fans would claim that this is only appropriate.

‘Maresnest’: Tim Smith Benefit with The Scaramanga Six
Cube Microplex, Dove Street South (off top-left of King Square), Kingsdown, Bristol, BS2 8JD, England
Saturday 21st October 2017, 7.00pm
information
 

October 2017 – upcoming London gigs – heavy art rock with Thumpermonkey, The Fierce & The Dead and Ham Legion; another Society of Imaginary Friends Soiree with Beth Jones, WondRwomN and others (both 6th October)

1 Oct

A couple of London choices for this Friday…

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Thumpermonkey + The Fierce & The Dead + Ham Legion, 6th October 2017

Chaos Theory Promotions presents:
The Facemelter: Thumpermonkey + The Fierce & The Dead + Ham Legion
The Black Heart, 2-3 Greenland Place, Camden Town, London, NW1 0AP, England
Friday 6th October 2017, 7.30pm
– information here and here

There’s still a few grab-’em-while-you-can tickets for this friendly clash between these three varied exemplars of British art rock. I keep posting odds and ends about them and always fear running out of something new to say, but here goes…

Described, this time out, as a “merry band of loony pronk heroes”, Thumpermonkey are better pegged as arch New Weird rockers, or as geeks-made-good. Bright, sharp, literate tale-tellers and brain-twisting scenarists, they roll out blistering tales and portraits of strange perspectives and stranger goings on festooned in kinked, scree-slipping riffs and grand declamatory vocals with an ever-present tinge of dark laughter. Unpicking the puzzlebox machinery of a typical Thumpermonkey song is a route to mingled glee and frustration, since singer, lyricist and concept director Michael Woodman packs in tight multi-dimensional digressions and inferences with the skill of a master.

This gig is a launch party for Thumpermonkey’s new EP ‘Electricity‘, inspired by “the luminous magnificence of human foolishness” and the story of “Victorian MP and visionary Lord James Badger… atomized by technology he hoped would transform the canals of the Euphrates, all because he followed the instructions of an angelic visitation.” The particular genius of Thumpermonkey is that they can unroll these kind of parodic slipstream plots without ever toppling into cute whimsy. If you’re looking for the missing link between Mastodon, Zappa, China Miéville, Van der Graaf Generator, Alejandro Jodorowsky and the harder end of the Mighty Boosh (and God knows that if you’re looking for something like that, you’re pretty specific), you’ll find it here. Clever bastards.


 

Currently riding along on the scaly back of their recent live album ‘Field Recordings’, The Fierce & The Dead are heading towards their seventh year as an imposing, boundary-squatting instrumental rock band, forcibly blending post-hardcore, instrumental prog, post-punk immediacy and experimental noise. Despite their music being sweetened by the inclusion of tuneful loop-guitar honeybear Matt Stevens in the lineup, they sport a brutal, angular, drawer-popping rifftastic sound which variously resembles Led Zeppelin and Black Flag simultaneously shaking down a post-rock band, a hotel kitchen getting a forcible mid-meal remodelling by Archaos, or a carhenge attempting to twerk along to highlife. Have a listen to Dancing Robots below for a dose of their live crunch and down-to-earth banter – or, if you prefer, there’s a free Bandcamp download sampler available.


 
Intermittently active Brightonian trio Ham Legion will open the show with a set of their cramped, restless heavy art-pop, matching the other two bands blurt-for-blurt and switch-for-switch.


 
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If all of the above is not for you – or if your Friday funds only stretch to a Tube journey and a drink – cabaret art-poppers Society of Imaginary Friends are putting on another free soiree in Wood Green (see passim). As ever, there’s a theme and a new bit of performance art jiggery-pokery from the Society themselves.

Society of Imaginary Friends Soiree, 6th October 2017

Society Of Imaginary Friends present:
Society of Imaginary Friends Soiree: “It’s Our Home County Amateur Dramatic Class Soiree” (featuring Society Of Imaginary Friends + Beth Jones + WondRwomN + Martin Wakefield + Cian Binchy + Lord Buckley + Ted Sawyer/Frank Frenzy DJ sets)
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Friday 6th October 2017, 8.00pm – free event
information

“From Tring to Crawley, Amersham to Reigate, the dusky Downs resound to the sound of dramatis personae… for this is the time of preparation… the drawing-in of the nights can mean only one thing to these outcasts… Panto season is approaching.

“Our October Soiree is dedicated to London’s cultural refugees who dwell beyond the M25 where things are quite different… in a quiet cul-de-sac of the mind they float… there is no music other than ’80s power-synth ballads or Gary Numan… the Am Dram village hall is at the centre of the Home Counties mock-Tudor universe… As a mark of deep respect for this tradition, Society of Imaginary Friends will be performing the premiere of their ‘Home Counties’ song cycle featuring their cosy pub classic Please Put That Hammer Away and It’s My Home Counties Amateur Dramatic Class.”

Also on the bill is the usual swirl of other words and music – bluesy singer-songwriter Beth Jones ; poet/raconteurs Martin Wakefield and Cian Binchy, emerging Tottenham groove goddess WondRwomN with a cocktail of psychedelic soul, funk, rap and “grit pop”; and the “deranged and strange” Lord Buckley (presumably a tribute act to the hipsemantic beat standup from the 1950s, unless SOIF have mastered necromancy this year and brought us back the real thing). There’s also a double DJ helping from Ted Sawyer (Northern Soul) and Frank Frenzy (that 1980s power disco sound mentioned earlier) plus Karamel’s usual prizewinning vegan food (this time “reimagining the ’70s classics like prawn cocktail and Boeuf Bourguignon as a death free feast”).

See below for the Society’s poperatic tribute to social media, a harmonica-laden song about infidelity from Beth, and a couple of drum-and-‘bone-assisted joints from WondRwomN…


 

June 2017 – upcoming London/German gigs – Lindsay Cooper remembered by Half The Sky (22nd June – plus Avantgarde Festival appearance on 25th June)

15 Jun
Half The Sky, 22nd June 2017

Half The Sky (photo © Jean-Hervé Péron)

Long before the knot of current pop culture wrangling over women’s control over the music they make, the late Lindsay Cooper was plugging away in her own corner, striving (and ultimately succeeding) for much the same thing in the often arid and unforgiving spaces of British art rock, improv and jazz. Later this month, the Half The Sky ensemble (led by vigorous curator/arranger /multi-instrumentalist Yumi Hara) will be bringing their showcase of her music both to London and to a small town outside Hamburg, re-animating the work she created for Henry Cow, News From Babel and Music For Films between the late ’70s and the mid-’80s.

Originally formed in 2015 for festival appearances in Japan and France, Half The Sky derive their name from the Maoist/feminist maxim, “women hold up half the sky”, as used by Lindsay as a composition title on Henry Cow’s ‘Western Culture’ album, back in 1978) and feature an impressive alliance of British and Japanese art-rock musicians. As well as Yumi on keyboards, lever harp and vocals, the ensemble features two members of Cicala-Mvta (Miwazow on koto, ching-dong percussion and voice; Wataru Okhuma on alto saxophone and clarinet), the Korekyojinn/Altered States bass guitarist Nasuno Mitsuru; Chlöe Herington (the reeds and melodica player from Knifeworld, Chrome Hoof and V Ä L V Ē) and finally two of Lindsay’s former Henry Cow/News From Babel colleagues (singer Dagmar Krause and drummer Chris Cutler). As Yumi points out, “the gender split follows Lindsay’s general practice and the example of the original bands – Henry Cow (50% female) and News from Babel (75% female).”

Yumi’s comments on the music:

“In 2013, soon after Lindsay passed away, Matthew Watkins made a call for arrangements of her mini-composition ‘Slice’ for a special edition of his podcast ‘Canterbury Sans Frontières‘. I made a transcription of the piece and recorded it for solo clavichord. Chris Cutler and I also played it in Japan and New York. A little later, inspired by the three memorial concerts Chris Cutler organised in 2014 with the original bands, I put Half The Sky together to play Lindsay’s music in Japan.

“With the exception of ‘Slice’, it was only after – and because of – the 2014 concerts that any working scores for the Henry Cow pieces became available, having been painstakingly assembled from Lindsay’s notebooks, original band-members’ surviving parts and careful analysis of the recordings. A handful of the News from Babel songs – none of which had ever been performed live – had already been reconstructed for the memorial concert by Zeena Parkins; the rest I had to work out from scratch – as well as rearranging everything for a mixture of occidental and oriental instruments.

“This programme is approached very much as a music of the present – and not as an academic reconstruction.”

In addition to Half The Sky’s performance, the London show will feature DJ sets from two of London’s more interesting musical personalities. Marina Organ’s known both for three decades of staunch work as writer/co-driving force of ‘Organ’ magazine and for her indefatigable DJ/interviewing work on ‘The Other Rock Show’. James Larcombe is the keyboard player and sometime composer with Stars In Battledress, Arch Garrison, North Sea Radio Orchestra, Zag & The Coloured Beads and the William D. Drake band; now he seems to be extending his talents (or at least his brassy neck), to disc-spinning.

Half the Sky: Music of Lindsay Cooper

  • Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England, Thursday 22nd June 2017, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Avantgarde Festival, Steinhorster Weg 2, 23847 Schiphorst, Deutschland, Sunday 25th June 2017, 2.15pm – information here and here


 
* * * * * * * *

Pinning down the nature of a woman’s work in art – or women’s work in general – is not always an easy thing, nor even desirable. Even the most positive intentions can produce more restrictive categories, more unwanted boxings and demands to conform. In the case of Lindsay, whose career always foregrounded honest effort and end product over personality showboating, and which was tinted by doubt and determination, it’s probably best to concentrate mostly on the mind behind the music: to listen to the querying voice coming through.

Operating over a set of times in which both contemporaries and colleagues had a tendency towards answers and stances, stated in both bald pronouncements and modernist-baroque ornamentations, she opted to bring a more questioning tone which nonetheless carried some of its possible answers in both action and presentation. Hers was a polymathic but purer musicality: an instrumental voice which voyaged alongside others’ often harsher pronouncements, détournements and doctrines and drew from them while never being subject to them, and which always kept a gentler, more accommodating side open to allow growing space and to consistently rebuild.

Although she also put in stints with both the cheery Canterbury fusioneering of National Health and the terrifying dark-folk band Comus during the 1970s, Lindsay was probably best known for her work with the powerful political chamber-prog of proto-Rock In Opposition ensemble Henry Cow (a creative ferment which she joined and left twice and, like most Cow-ers, never entirely left behind). Having initially brought in her toolkit of reeds, woodwind and piano skills to play on the band’s second album ‘Unrest’, she subsequently made small inroads into the writing, contributing to a number of group compositions on ‘In Praise of Learning’ and the ‘Concerts’ set. As a composer, though, she finally came into her own on the band’s final, all-instrumental statement ‘Western Culture’, on which she was responsible for most of the piled jazzy grandeur of the second side (finding previously unexplored links between the music of New York, Canterbury and Switzerland).

Lindsay Cooper

Lindsay Cooper

Perhaps more significantly, by this point in the late ’70s Lindsay had already formed the witty, subversive Feminist Improvising Group, or FIG; a project which she co-ran with vocalist Maggie Nichols in parallel with her Cow work. Generally considered to be the preoccupation and property of educated, intense, white men, the British and European free improvising of the time tended to be a little short on jokes (bar occasional pranking along the lines of the Free Art Research Trio). FIG allied Lindsay and Maggie with various other musical and performance talents – “feminist rock” trumpeter Corine Liensol (who’d played in Jam Today with a young Deirdre Cartwright), pianist Cathy Williams (who’d worked with another Cow-er, Geoff Leigh, in the Rag Doll duo), future filmmaker Sally Potter, latterday Cow cellist Georgie Born and Swiss free-jazz pianist Irène Schweizer (the last being allegedly the only European female improviser on the ‘60s and ‘70s scene). In classic feminist tradition, FIG not only enabled previously sidelined female voices onto the improv scene but deliberately upturned expectations as to what such a scene could achieve.

In comparison to the demanding and abstruse Maoist politics of Henry Cow (which, in private, sometimes resembled a brutally masculine university debating society preoccupied with games of political high-grounding), FIG were spontaneous, mutually supportive and – just as importantly – funny. With a strong and personal rooting in lesbian, class-based and feminist activism (plus parallel feelings of sidelining and denial on the part of others) but a suspicion of dogma, they expressed frustration and political challenge by drawing on a collective sense of the absurd and of the sympathetic. In addition to the music, their shows featured parodic stagings and examinations of domestic work (such as kitchenwork and cleaning) and of consumer preoccupations. Vegetables were peeled onstage; household tools such as dustpans and brooms pressed into service as props and noisemakers; oppressive or manipulative memes transformed into call-and-response singing.

Reading accounts of FIG work reveals a tale of tough gigs, audience misunderstandings and frequent frustration. Men carped, frowned and cold-shouldered; women laughed, argued and sometimes welcomed; the group members continually challenged their own sense of self and role; but the work itself sounds joyously unshackled – something I would have loved to have been around to see. It’s a shame that much improv and theatrical work is always of the moment and tends to vanish like dew in the morn. Without recorded evidence or restaging, it fades into hearsay, and in this case an important chapter in Lindsay’s work has to dwell in a kind of word-of-mouth samizdat.

Post-Cow and FIG, Lindsay ran her own Film Music Orchestra to create and record arthouse soundtracks (often working in cinematic cahoots with Sally Potter). She rejoined another former Cow colleague ((the now-mellowed Chris Cutler) for the 1980s post-Marxist art-song project News From Babel: here, Chris’ social and political musings would make a happier marriage with the pop-cabaret end of Lindsay’s music. She also contributed to the counter-cultural jazz colours of various Mike Westbrook and John Wolf Brennan bands, played with Pere Ubu ranter David Thomas, worked in theatre and (in the ’90s) composed a more formal chamber music which nonetheless retained the edge and inquiring spirit of her work in avant-rock and political art. She’d collaborate with Potter again for the Cold War song cycle ‘Oh, Moscow’ in the late ’80s, to which Chris Cutler also contributed. If encroaching multiple sclerosis (which had privately dogged her throughout her post-Cow career) hadn’t dragged her into early retirement in the late ’90s, there would have been more.

Half The Sky provide a welcome re-introduction to Lindsay’s work, performed by committed people whose sympathy with Lindsay Cooper’s music is absolute. However, they should also be viewed as a window onto the wider career of a quietly remarkable woman whose death in 2013 forced a premature coda onto the work of a mind whose personal humility had been more than balanced by its nimbleness, thoughtful and flexibility. Come along to these concerts and hear some of that mindwork and heartwork come alive again.


 

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