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June 2017 – upcoming English gigs – the return of Pram with the immersive ‘Under the Blossom That Hangs On The Bough’ event in Birmingham (June 3rd); Zarjaz Baby and Jon Slade/Night of the Comet in London (June 3rd); Arthur Russell’s ‘Calling Out Of Context’ revisited in London (June 7th)

23 May

Some shows and events to start June off. In Birmingham, experimental dream pop/post rock band Pram (one of the most original and charming groups ever to work in either genre) have resurfaced and are taking over an Edgbaston park for a very different kind of performance. Back in London there are opportunities to catch up with Zarjaz Baby (one of the wilder characters from the original wave of British post-punk) an acoustic set from Jon Slade (who’s navigated his way through a heap of scenes from art-punk to Riot Grrl to a thousand indie DJ nights); and a recreation of the cello/pop songs of Arthur Russell, one of the darlings of the 1980s New York loft music scene.

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Pram: 'Under The Blossom That Hangs On The Bough', 3rd June 2017

for-Wards, MAC Birmingham and Pram present:
Pram: ‘Under the Blossom That Hangs On The Bough’
Martineau Gardens, 27 Priory Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B5 7UG, England
Saturday 3rd June 2017, 4:30pm
– free event – information here, here and here

“Composers and sonic artists Pram have been exploring south Birmingham with the help of local community groups to uncover the sounds of the locality. The results are both familiar and surprising.

“Let Pram take you on a journey through the city, a sound trail through the four wards of Birmingham’s Edgbaston district. Hear the world from the perspective of a bee as it flutters and forages. The snuffles of a tiny baby become the snores of a lion, the gurgle of a stream a mighty cataract. Come along and follow the woodland trail, bring a picnic and settle down for a performance inspired by the sound of the city as you’ve never heard it before.

“Set in the magical surroundings of Martineau Gardens, ‘Under the Blossom that Hangs on the Bough’ is an installation and performance by Pram, celebrating the sounds of Edgbaston. It will take place at Martineau Gardens on the afternoon of Saturday 3rd June, concluding at 6.30pm with a Pram performance inspired by sound recordings made in the wards of Quinton, Harborne, Edgbaston and Bartley Green. Free admission if you register at Eventbrite…”

This isn’t quite the same Pram that charmed us and subverted pop for a surprisingly long stint in the ’90s and noughties across a string of albums which included ‘Dark Island’ and ‘Sargasso Sea’ and a sound that seemed to be part child’s murmur, part clinking post-kosmische stroll and part friendly haunted house. Most obviously, singer and lyricist Rosie Cuckston (she who used to mount her keyboard on an ironing board at concerts) is absent, having moved on into academia and a more direct form of the social activism which the band’s eclectic inclusiveness and tendency to take philosophical side roads only hinted. That said, the rest of the band’s original creative core (multi-instrumentalists Matt Eaton, Sam Owen and Max Simpson) are all present, having spent the interim years of Pram downtime working with wonky loops as Two Dogs, creating film and theatre sound and making sonic art out of books with the Sound Book Project.

This also isn’t the first time that the post-Rosie Pram’s reappeared. Earlier in May they made an appearance at Imaginary Musics in Switzerland, playing a “music for Kopfkino” audio-visual set in a festival dedicated to “cinematic, recomposed and fictional musics”, and it seems as if losing Rosie’s quiet reflective voice and cocooned lyrics has shifted them further over into the areas suggested by Matt’s sound design and by Sam and Max’s live sound art. On-spec, it seems as if they’ve succeeded in becoming a kind of “post-band”, with a foot in their old live work, song-structures and performance coherence, but leaning towards something far more abstract and ego-free. ‘Under the Blossom That Hangs On The Bough’ sounds as if it will be something fascinating to be immersed in – an urban psychedelic afternoon stroll with the family, an aural refraction of Birmingham through leaves, greenery and company.

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Zarjaz Baby + Jon Slade, 3rd June 2017

Zarjaz Baby + Jon Slade
The Horse Hospital, The Colonnade, Bloomsbury, London, WC1N 1JD, England
Saturday 3rd June 2017, 7.00pm
information

“An existentialist extravaganza featuring a solo acoustic set from Zarjaz Baby (Freakapuss and former Tronics). Zarjaz will be performing dark atmospheric songs, full of imagery, with jazz, blues, early ’60s beat and pop influences, with live performance artists, in a style not seen since the basement and candles days of Beatniks.

“Also featured on the night is a solo acoustic Love-Rock revival set from Jon Slade/Knight Of The Comet, incorporating songs from his former bands Huggy Bear and Comet Gain, plus a Fire Department number, some Electric Bull re-workings, as well as songs he wrote with Wolfy Jones.


 
“’60s European pop music in between sets, Francoise Hardy, Brigitte Bardot, Gillian Hills. Expect sombre girls dressed in black and boys in Breton shirts.”

For more information contact incoming@freakapuss.com

For more on Zarjaz’s chequered life and career, have a read of this interview he did with ‘The Quietus’ three years ago, featuring accounts of brushes with mental illness, of releasing surreal post-punk songs with titles like Shark Fucks, of arguing with ‘2000AD’ over his stage name, and of having his image ripped off by Sigue Sigue Sputnik.


 
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Arthur Russell: 'Calling Out Of Context', 7th June 2017

XOYO Live and Milestones present:
‘Arthur Russell – A Classic Reinterpreted’
XOYO, 32-37 Cowper Street, St Lukes, London, EC2A 4AP, England
Wednesday 7th June 2017, 7.00pm
– information here and here

“It’s been said that “Arthur’s songs were so personal that it seems as though he simply vanished into his music.”

“Twenty-five years after Arthur Russell‘s death, some of the most exciting, forward-thinking faces in music are set to present a unique rendition of Arthur Russell’s timeless album ‘Calling Out Of Context’. A posthumous album that brought together twelve incredible tracks from across two previously unreleased LPs, ‘Calling Out Of Context’ represents Arthur in his prime. Two decades later and the music sounds as contemporary as ever – a huge inspiration for those performing on the night. We’re very excited to hear this new rendition.”

Bringing together elements of electropop, classical minimalism, post-disco, hip hop and singer-songwriter work, the ‘Calling Out Of Context’ songs span twenty years of Arthur’s composing and creative history while he was battling to fuse the parallel New York worlds of dance culture and art music between the late ’70s and the early ’90s – a pioneer of the freewheeling musical eclectism which today we pretty much take for granted. Take a look at this salvaged 1987 interview feature from the ‘Melody Maker’ for more on the topic, featuring reflections from Arthur and others on Indian music, the pulse shared by formal minimalism and New York dance clubs, and the social and cultural challenges of the time regarding blending “high” and “low” cultures.

The band for this London performance consists of Ashley Henry (keyboards), Midori Jaeger (cello), Alica Higgins (vocals), Sam Gardner (drums) and Joe Downard (bass).


 

March 2017 – upcoming gigs – Ramp Local show in New York on the 8th (Lily & Horn Horse, Macula Dog, Gavin Riley Smoke Machine, The Cradle); Whispers & Hurricanes show in London on the 9th (Danielle de Picciotto, Alexander Hacke, Jo Quail)

2 Mar

A little convocation of bands associated with Philadelphia’s Ramp Local label are playing at the Glove, an out-of-the-way Brooklyn performance theater and art shrine. (Apparently the Glove’s been set up by the same people responsible for the Grove performance space, and seems to be so in-the-moment that it’s impossible to find a formal address for it – you’ll either have to private-message their Facebook page, ask the right kind of friend, or get off at the MTA stop by Flushing Avenue and Broadway and take the chance that you’ll spot it.)

Lily and Horn Horse + Macula Dog + Gavin Reilly Smoke Machine + The Cradle, 8th March 2017

Ramp Local presents:
Lily & Horn Horse + Macula Dog + Gavin Reilly Smoke Machine + The Cradle
The Glove, (somewhere in) Bushwick, Brooklyn, New York City, NY 11221, USA
Wednesday 8th March 2017, 8.00pm
information

The gig’s a launch event for the debut album by Lily & Horn Horse, more on which below:

”Lily Konigsberg is a member of the experimental punk band Palberta, hailed by ‘Pitchfork’ for their “mercurial gestures, barking acidity, and off-the-cuff creativity” as well as for their taste for swapping or abandoning instruments midflow. Fellow multi-instrumentalist Matt Norman performs as Horn Horse. Together they formed a group called Lily & Horn Horse, who will release a collaborative cassette album – ‘Lily On Horn Horse’ – on March 3rd 2017 (on the heels of Palberta’s most recent album ‘Bye Bye Berta’), by way of Philly’s Ramp Local Records.

“With ‘Lily On Horn Horse’, Lily and Matt deliver a twenty-eight-track collaboration that synthesizes the eclectic musical talents of both multi-instrumentalists. Originally presented as a CD, the compilation was sold and packaged in origami during an August 2016 tour of the north-east USA. The album is more a snapshot of a creative time and place than concept-album. As Lily and Matt say “The release of Matt’s ‘Horn Horse‘ album featured Lily on most songs, most of which are included in y’own tape. Around the same time Lily was developing a mega set of karaoke music and instructed Matt to blow down some car horn charts which were eventually replaced by baritone horn parts and inserted into the recordings gently sleeping inside thine tape.”


 
“The record ends up a coherent pastiche of diverse tracks full of free jazz-inspired brass freak-outs, ethereal piano ballads, and synth arrangements skewed toward electronic composition. Lily’s siren-like voice calls from a perfume-cloud of disco-inspired grooves while Horn Horse’s vocals hit robotic and angular production. Tracks like Today and She Doesn’t Have A Good Brain bring to mind an Arthur Russell-like elevation of pop-music experimentation. In short, the record is a curated-tour through the frontiers of Lilly and Horn Horse’s creative landscape.”


 
The gig also offers three other acts. There’s discombobulated glitch-funk played with “inebriated, mule-like precision” from Macula Dog. There’s Big Neck Police‘s Paco Cathcart, performing with Palberta’s Ani Ivry-Block and The Gradients‘ Sammy Weissberg as The Cradle – woozy tenement indie-folk songs, a little like an accordion-and-double-bass equipped Mazzy Star at war with drum machines and bad aircon. Finally, there’s the goofy multi-media work of Gavin Riley Smoke Machine.



 
For me the most satisfying of the support acts is Gavin, who creates his own live-music take on a Choose Your Own Adventure paperback. He does this by gumming together a spitball of nerdy white-boy hip hop, blow-by-blow audience interaction and goofy pulp fiction/afternoon TV storytelling (a schoolkid caught up in a whirl of mutants, drug gangs, sinister teachers, the FBI and parents with mysterious pasts), topped off with some endearing homemade animation. In theory, it should fall flat on its face: instead, it can turn an audience of jaded hipsters back into eager, happy children.


 
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Back in London, Chaos Theory’s airier spin-off Whispers & Hurricanes is back in business with a few old friends:

Hacke & De Picciotto + Jo Quail, 9th March 2017

Chaos Theory presents:
Whispers & Hurricanes: Hacke & De Picciotto, Jo Quail
Strongroom Bar, 120-124 Curtain Road, Shoreditch, London, EC2A 3SQ, England
Thursday 9th March 2017, 7.30pm
information

“The first Whispers & Hurricanes of the year sees the return of two legendary multimedia performers (whose entire life together is an ongoing work of art), as well as a prolific contemporary cellist and loop artist.

“German-American artist couple Danielle de Picciotto and Alexander Hacke are internationally known – she as the co-founder of the Love Parade, he a founding member of the band Einstürzende Neubauten – and both of them together members of Crime & The City Solution. Since 2010 they have been leading a nomadic life, touring the world with music and theatre projects, never staying still for too long. After two breathtaking shows for us at Cafe Oto and at Hackney Attic, this unconventional and versatile duo return to the UK with new additions to their show.

“Tonight they will perform music from their recently released and widely acclaimed album ‘Perseverantia’ – made up of instrumental sounds, a few spoken words by Danielle, throat singing by Alexander, purrs and squeaks of the hurdy-gurdy and autoharp, melancholic melodies of the violin, and bass and guitar hums.

“We will also have a first chance to hear new pieces that they are working on for their next album, comprised of recordings made in a huge cathedral in Austria, mixed with Mexican found sounds and desert drones. It will be intense.

 
Jo Quail is a visionary cellist who never ceases to push boundaries and her own limitations, with equally dramatic and contemplative compositions as well as with her use of loops and effects. Over the last seven years, her career has seen her release three full albums, a live DVD, several collaborative works, and many international tours, most recently with post-rock giants Caspian.

“Her music has captured the hearts of rock, classical, experimental, metal, post-rock, gothic and folk fans alike, and she is known for creating a unique experience with each performance.”


 

November 2016 – upcoming gigs – the glorious 12th: some of many gigs scattered around England on my birthday tomorrow – Mother, North Sea Radio Orchestra, ILL, Nick Costley-White, India McKellar, Alice Zawadski, Merrick’s Tusk, Snowapple, Captives On The Carousel, Mark Lewandowski, Steve Strong, Shield Patterns, Jamie Safiruddin, The Yossarians, Boy & A Balloon, Bruxa | Cosa, Ed Dowie, Carl Woodford, Andy Or Jenny, Patrons…

11 Nov

Tomorrow I turn forty-six. About half of those years have been spent as an on-and-off writer, scrambling round the edges of music and music culture, attempting to understand this great amorphous art form with its thousands of doors and voices. I had a sombre, or at least a serious, preamble planned: one of those reflective commentator essays that you see on many of the more literate blogs. I threw it away.

Instead (and in keeping with what ‘Misfit City’ has been up to for most of the year), here’s a particularly long garland of gig notices. It’s not here to illustrate any particular school of thought, being the usual melange of tastes and forms – jazz, folk, art-punk, acoustic singer-songwriter, prog, performance art, drone, classical fusion and lush noise. It’s that particular kind of broad, inconsistent, credibility-trampling aural palette which (back when I started doing this in the mid-’90s), wasn’t suggested much outside of the pages of ‘Organ’ or the less austere corners of ‘The Wire’, or indeed ‘Misfit City’; but which now seems to be almost a mainstream stance.

Some other day – perhaps some other birthday – will be the right time for an essay or a grand declaration. If I’ve got a point to make right now (if only by implication and example), it’s that at a tired, fairly battered forty-six I’m still curious, still enthusiastic, still in the business of learning; at a time and place in life which might otherwise ossify my tastes and reduce music to just another commodity or flattened signifier. Spread out over this post are details on concerts, all of them in England, all of them scattered across my birthday. There’s no way I could attend all of them, even with an entirely free hand, but all of them attract me; and at any one of them you’d have found me leaning against a wall, pen and pad in hand, taking notes, looking for new thoughts.

I’ve already posted about the iamthemorning/Tim Bowness teamup for the iO Pages festival, but I can’t really squeeze in the flight to the Netherlands. (Besides, I’m catching them in London on Monday). I’ve also posted about the evening’s Hallkvist/Taylor/Goller/Hayward jazz-fusion show (plus a side order of Charlie Stacey) at the Lambeth art incubator of IKLECTIK, as part of an update on Charles Hayward’s burst of late-year shows. Since that one’s in London, it’s a more likely option for me; but also down at IKLECTIK, in the early afternoon, London jazz incubator Jazz Nursery will be joining in with the ongoing EFG London Jazz Festival in order to present a couple of young bandleaders with relatively accessible projects.

Well, why not start there – start mellow…

Guitarist Nick Costley-White has a trio featuring Conor Chaplin on double bass and David Ingamells on drums and offers fresh, swinging takes on Jerome Kern and Cole Porter (with the leader described by ‘Jazz News’ as “a classy player with an elegant and subtle way with a good tune”). Bassist Mark Lewandowski (“sonorous, fluent… an indispensable part of our scene” – ‘London Jazz’) sets aside his busy calendar as a sideman to compose for and lead a quartet of American drum legend Jeff Williams (Stan Getz, Lee Konitz, Joe Lovano etc) as well as tenor saxophonist Tom Challenger (Brass Mask, Wedding Music, Dice Factory, Ma) and pianist Liam Noble (Stan Sulzman, Bobby Wellins, many records as leader).

Nick Costley-White, 2016Jazz Nursery/EFG London Jazz Festival presents:
Nick Costley-White Trio + Mark Lewandowski Quartet
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Saturday 12th November 2016, 2.30pm
information

It looks as if this particular Mark Lewandowski band is too new to have been recorded, but here’s a clip of the Costley-White Trio at work:


 
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'Liberate yourself from my vice like grip", 12th November 2016
Were I up in the north-west I’d be listening to something entirely different, tempted by ‘Liberate yourself from my vice like grip’, the R.D. Laing-inspired exhibition/concert/happening that’s playing at Islington Mill in Salford. Set up by contemporary art organisation Broken Grey Wires, it’s part of their scheme to create safe psychological spaces for people with various mental health issues; to use art as “a facilitator for recovery… to encourage people to make something special for themselves”, following Laing’s own suggestion that “madness need not be all breakdown. It may also be break-through.” 

(Yep – I know how to relax on my own special days.)

For the musical component, co-curators Fat Out have put together a typically eclectic and Mill-ready line-up of mostly local bands. Included are soundscaping folk-indie/jazz-shoegaze performance artists Mother, psychedelic folk-rock jam-jivers The Yossarians and colourful, blippy post-punk femme/art/pop troupe ILL (proudly strident champions of “disobedient noise” who believe in “creating music until something tingles, and performing dance noise until something bleeds”, and who were namechecked in ‘The Guardian’ today as one of the fifty new pop projects shaping the future). Also on the bill are ambient improvisers Andy Or Jenny, the “atavistic” Berlin-based Welsh looptronica singer Bruxa | Cosa, and landscape-ghosting Peak District ambient-pop duo Shield Patterns.

For the ongoing exhibition BGW have brought in various artists who explore mental health, gender, identity and subjective reality in their work (Lizz Brady, Robert Good, Amy Mizrahi, David Sheery, Kirsty Harris, Paul Kindersley, Jared Pappas-Kelley, Alexander Storey Gordon) all of whom raise so many questions, options and ways of seeing that I’d go on for ages trying to clumsily summarise them. Instead, I’d suggest that you follow them up on Facebook through the second info link below…

Broken Grey Wires & Fat Out present:
‘Liberate yourself from my vice like grip’
Islngton Mill Arts Centre, James Street, Salford, M3 5HW, England
Saturday 12th November 2016, 6.00pm
– information here and here





 
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Steve Strong + Patrons + Merrick's Tusk, 12th November 2016If I were in Durham, I could make up for missing one-man post/math/trip-hop band Steve Strong‘s set of simultaneous guitar-loops/drums/electronic-noise hybrids at Wakizashi last month, by catching up with him up at his Empty Shop show in Durham – alongside the trepidatious post-hardcore of Plymouth four-piece Patrons and the blitzing sentimental charge of Derby trio Merrick’s Tusk (currently touring their melodic, heart-on-sleeve half-emo rock around the country). While I was at it, I could feel as if I was contributing more to the community than just the usual couple of hours of head-nodding. (See more about the constructive, cohesion-building Empty Shop ethos here.)

Sapien Records Ltd/Empty Shop presents:
Steve Strong + Patrons + Merrick’s Tusk
Empty Shop HQ, 35c Framwellgate Bridge (above ‘Ciao Ciao’), Durham, DH1 4SJ, England
Saturday 12th November 2016, 8:00 pm
– information here and here




 

India McKellar, 2016

India McKellar

If in Sheffield, I’d probably be in a softer mood, heading over to the Regather co-op for one of their cosier gigs: the second of the recently-established acoustic evenings run by local cello/voice/guitar folk duo Captives On The Carousel.

This week (in addition to the Carouselers usual warm starting set), the night’s playing host to two other Sheffield-area singer-songwriters – India McKellar, whose previous adventures on piano, as a traditional Celtic harpist and as a onetime prog-rocker have set her up well for her matured, quietly captivating role as Laurel-Canyon-by-way-of-West Riding adult songwriter; and rootsier Drake-and-Jansch-inspired guitar-and-banjo picker Carl Woodford.

Captives on the Carousel present:
Captives Vol. 2: India McKellar + Carl Woodford + Captives On The Carousel
Regather Works, 57-59 Club Garden Road, Sheffield, S11 8BU, England
Saturday 12th November 2016, 7.30pm
information




 
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Alice Zawadski, 2016

Alice Zawadski

Back in London, I’d also be tempted (were it not already sold out) by Alice Zawadski’s Joni Mitchell evening down at Brasserie Zedel. I’m not keen on the institution of the average cover version, and embarrassingly average covers of Joni songs are the bane of many an acoustic evening: honeytraps for earnest women with guitars who cover them reverently, winsomely and really badly. Every time, I picture Joni seething in the audience, her notorious strongmindededness in full bullish effect: snarling at the women onstage, cursing them out for skipping her weird tunings, for ignoring the orchestral conception behind the compositions, or for just sugaring the fine vinegar.

This one might well be different, for several reasons. One is that Alice already comes with acclaim, experience and enough background to serve the songs – extensively trained in both jazz and classical skills, a violinist and arranger as well as a singer, she’ll be thinking on maybe as many levels as Joni herself. Another is that her gig partner and pianist Jamie Safiruddin has racked up time and plaudits accompanist and/or musical director with prime British jazz, ballad and folk interpreters Ian Shaw, Claire Martin and Barb Jungr and Ben Cox, as well as pop adventures with Will Young (plus he already has Joni-form, having “played Edith And The Kingpin with exquisite poise” according to ‘The Arts Desk’).

A third reason is that this is primarily a jazz gig; Jamie and Alice joined by Seafarers saxophonist Matthew Herd, bassist Conor Chaplin (strolling over from the earlier Costley-White trio show), drummer and Conor’s Fabled buddy and drummerWill Glaser. No matter how many copies of ‘Blue’ you pitch at my head, I’ll always maintain that Joni was at her original best when diving into jazz, interweaving with Wayne Shorter and Jaco Pastorius as her words kaleidoscoped, her notes ached and flexed and the potential in the arrangement spanned and fanned. Alice is promising Joni’s most well-worn hits and folky standards (‘Big Yellow Taxi’, ‘A Case of You’, ‘Woodstock’) but also “lesser-known gems from throughout her long and fruitful back-catalogue”, and it’s not always that you get the chance to hear someone dipping into the more challenging territories of ‘Hejira’, ‘The Hissing Of Summer Lawns’ or ‘Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter’.

Here are the details for anyone who’s a better ligger/doorstaff wheedler than I am; and below that’s a clip of Alice at work with saxophonist Joe Wright on a song which, even if it’s not quite Joni, shows what her mind and approach could be bringing to the Mitchell catalogue.

Jamie Safiruddin & Alice Zawadski
The Crazy Coqs @ Brasserie Zedel, 20 Sherwood Street, Soho, London, W1F 7ED, England
Saturday 12th November 2016, 9.00pm
information


 
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As for me, I can only guarantee that I’ll be in one particular place tomorrow. At noontime I’ll be in the Union Chapel, at one of the Daylight Music shows which I constantly plug here but all to often have to miss. Accompanied by family (and perhaps even a few unexpected friends), I’ll be down there listening to the soft, distracted keyboard songs of Ed Dowie; watching the charming and daffy Dutch folk-pop trio SnowApple delight and dazzle an audience in a fizz of swapped instruments, leapt genres, blended voices and eye-catching outfits; taking in the interstitial battered-pop moments from Boy And a Balloon‘s Alex Hall; and finally immersing myself in the ringing, humming chamber-ensemble arrangements of Craig Fortnam’s North Sea Radio Orchestra as they navigate (in a bright-toned weave of nylon-strung guitar, bassoon, strings, keyboards and voice) between the Britten-esque and the kosmische, between gurgling Vernon Elliott and sighing Robert Wyatt, between the hopping pulse of downtown minimalism and the Anglican warmth of a Wiltshire harvest festival.

Maybe Daylight shows are at the cuddlier end of what interests me within this blog; but it’s also fair to say that, out of everything covered here, perhaps the rambling, all-points Daylight positivity reflects ‘Misfit City’s own attitude best of all. And in a similar spirit… say hello if you see me there.

Daylight Music 238, 12th November 2016

Arctic Circle presents:
Daylight Music 238: North Sea Radio Orchestra + Snowapple + Ed Dowie + Boy & A Balloon
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 12th November 2016, 12.00pm
– free event (suggested donation: £5.00) – information here and here





 

The End Festival 2015 in Crouch End, part 1 (November 12th-15th)

11 Nov

The End Festival, 2015

When I was growing up in north London, Crouch End was the “next village over”. It was the place where I went to primary school and first heard song by Neil Young, Steve Winwood and The Kinks (strummed out and sung in assemblies alongside battling hymns from the civil rights movement) and where I began sharpening my hunger for musical knowledge on the rich ranks of vinyl LPs in Hornsey Library. Over the years, I’ve continued to associate the neighbourhood with music – other people’s memories of old art-rock and punk gigs at the Hornsey College of Art; the star traffic through the Church Studio at the bottom of Crouch Hill (owned in turn by Eurythmics and Paul Epsworth), where you might find Erasure or Sisters of Mercy catching a mid-session coffee in the local café; and the Gareth Malone wet-dream of the Crouch End Festival Chorus, a local choir with a national reputation.

That said, Crouch End’s day-to-day music scene has always struck me as lacking. There have been exceptions to the rule – the steady reservoir of blues and roots playing at the Kalamazoo Club; the string of house concerts that Jenni Roditi ran at her loft between 2002 and 2009; more recently, a flowering of rootsy events at the Earl Haig Hall. But generally speaking, Crouch End has always seemed to me to export or traffick in music rather than play it, becoming an increasingly upmarket and bijou neighbourhood where shoppers vastly outnumber giggers; easily eclipsed by the musicality of other London neighbourhoods like Camden Town, Dalston, Shoreditch, even Tooting.

Well, more fool me. It turns out that I’ve regularly been overlooking and missing The End – an annual, musically expansive Crouch End festival that turns all of my gloomy observations about the neighbourhood’s gig shortcomings to dust – at least, for two weeks. As my penance, here’s the first half of an overview of everyone playing at this year’s festival, which starts tomorrow (all ticket details are to be found via the info links or at the festival website).

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Lowpines + Forced Random + Ylja (Earl Haig Hall, 18 Elder Avenue, Crouch End, London, N8 9TH, UK, Thursday 12th November, 7:30pm) – £8.80 – information

The festival kicks off with a concert navigating the blurry margins of folk and lo-fi alternative rock, with headliners good enough to warrant a post all of their own. The crepuscular but lovely Lowpines have been racking up an unending stream of plaudits for their Anglo-Americana atmospherics, which recall old phonographs playing whispered, heartspilling songs in dusty basements, laced with judicious drums, intricate campfire fingerpicking and stargazing whistles of feedback like psychedelic pedal steel lines. Support comes from Oliver Girdler’s one-man lo-fi project Forced Random (which drifts ghostlike from instrument to instrument and from one slow soft-edged song to another) and from Reykjavík folk-rock trio Ylja (initially based around female harmonies and lap-style slide guitar but expanding into a broader palette that encompasses and recalls not just Fairport Convention, early Clannad and Pentangle but also the glowing starfield details of Sigur Rós and 1972 Pink Floyd).



 

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The Fierce & The Dead + a.P.A.t.T + Markers (Downstairs @ The Kings Head, 2 Crouch End Hill, Crouch End, London, N8 8AA, UK, Friday 13th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £8.80 – information

The first of several events at The Kings Head hosts assorted sprigs from the thornier of British art-rock. Headlining are prog-punk quartet The Fierce & The Dead (no strangers to this blog) who bring the rumbling immediacy of their quick-flaring complicated avant-garage instrumentals to the valley for the evening. In support, hazmat-suited Liverpudlian performance art troupe a.P.A.t.T, play “progressive pop that owes as much to Kurt Schwitters and the Chapman Brothers as it does to ABBA and Zappa”, drawing on a shifting tag-team of ‘Pool talent and bring strong flavours of the absurd, the deceptive and the cunning to whatever they do.


Opening the evening, Markers reunites two old friends from the omnivorous ferment of the 1990s London math rock scene – Jodie Cox (Ursa, Narrows, Exes, Rohame and Earth) and Jason Carty (Geiger Counter, Foe, Art Of Burning Water) as two electric guitarists without a singer, a rhythm section, any other instruments or much in the way of signal processing. Expect carefully poised, bare-branching instrumentals somewhere between Slintian maths, precise Fripp and Summers interplay, and the minimum-lines/maximum-impact approach of a Japanese ink painting or minimalist film.

 

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Kate Jackson & The Wrong Moves + Oh800 + YLJA (The Crypt Studio, 145a Crouch Hill, Crouch End, London, N8 9QH, UK, Friday 13th November 2015, 9.30pm) – £8.50 – information

Kate Jackson (the former Long Blondes singer (and sometime British Electric Foundation/Heaven 17 collaborator) brings her current band The Wrong Moves to The End. She’ll be playing music from the upcoming “mysterious” album she’s been writing and recording with Bernard Butler over the past six years (though from what I’ve heard of it it’s more assured than mysterious – a muscular, classic pop rock mix with Kate’s big vocals and Bernard’s bright, sometimes startling guitar work).

Also on the bill are Oh800, a currently secretive new supergroup featuring Eoin “Oh Ruin” O’Ruainigh plus members of The Duke Spirit and F.U.R.S. The project is still enough under wraps not to have any tracks available to share, so you’ll just have to guess what they sound like, though it’s possible that the old Oh Ruin ingredients of blues, campfire tunes, Irish folk and fingerpicking will get a look-in. In addition, Ylja will be playing their second support slot of the festival, following the previous day’s appearance with Longpines.

 

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Joseph & Maia + Charlotte Carpenter + Annalie Wilson + Storme (Rileys The Ice Cream Café, 32 The Broadway, Crouch End, London, N8 9SU, UK, Friday 13th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £5.50 – information

An intimate gig of classic pop styles in one of Crouch End’s favourite drop-in cafes. New Zealand duo Joseph & Maia headline, playing songs from their debut album ‘Sorrento’ (a record which shows both their indebtedness to American songbook player-writers both old and new – Buckingham and Nicks, Ryan Adams, Paul Simon, Patsy Cline, Noah Gundersen – and their absolute assurance in working the same seams). Armed with a deeper and more ambiguous folk-blues approach, Northamptonshire-born Charlotte Carpenter sings songs of doubt and connection, softly, but with great emotional power held in check (like a surge pushing at a levee).


Rounding out the bill, acoustic festival favourite and all-round performer Annalie Wilson brings straight-ahead conversational, coffee-house songs on piano and guitar: while concert opener Storme (a Swedish singer-songwriter who’s come over to London to develop her songs, reversing the usual trend) is bold and dramatic enough to be a headliner, since her heavy-weather synth-pop aims for the same stadium-friendly altitudes as Florence + The Machine, Chvrches or even the more crowdpleasing moments of Björk .


 

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Becky Arundel + Nora Grefstad + Kloak (Kiss The Sky, 18-20 Park Road, Crouch End, London, N8 8TD, UK, Saturday 14th November 2015, 3.00pm) – free

The first of the Saturday gigs is a celebration of young female songwriters. Becky Arundel writes and delivers muscled, determined folk-rock in the Melissa Etheridge vein, moving from unplugged strum to bursting electric explosions. Norwegian singer Nora Grefstad , who generally trades as Noraslittleworld, slides her path midway between Elkie Brooks and Beth Gibbons (offering slightly wonky, jazzy trip-hopped pop or full-diva piano balladry – in each case with a hint of smeared-lipstick, morning-after feeling). While there seem to be plenty of people contributing to Kloak, in essence they’re two sassy-wise white girls – Georgia Meek and Gabrielle Mallett – putting together R&B-tinged electropop with a strong flavour of Eartha Kitt (those bent notes and divan stretches; that conversational yawp in the voice).



 

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Cortes + Bea Munro + Orfan (ThisIsWIRED @ Rileys The Ice Cream Café, 32 The Broadway, Crouch End, London, N8 9SU, UK, Saturday 14th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £7.70 – information

Showcase night ThisIsWIRED (which, since its initiation in Shoreditch seven years ago has incubated the early budding careers of musicians including Ellie Goulding, Raleigh Ritchie and Michael Kiwanuka) rolls up to a Crouch End ice cream parlour for a north London jaunt. Tonight’s players include crisp power-poppers Cortes and belting 22-year-old ‘60s-rock-siren revivalist Bea Munro; but for my money the likely star in the pack is gig opener Orfan, who uses his multi-instrumental skills to hone captivating yearning songs which touch bases with such odd-bedfellow influences as Nico, Prince and Boo Hewerdine.



 

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Farrago + Ylja + Frida Wallin + YLJA (Before the Gold Rush @ The Haberdashery, 22 Middle Lane, Crouch End, London, N8 8PL, UK, Saturday 14th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £5.50 – information

In keeping with The End’s origins, peripatetic roots night Before The Gold Rush curate an outright folk & Americana evening. A truly enchanting set looks likely from Farrago, the psychedelic folk vehicle for the lucid, highly literate work of London songwriter Ian Bennett – vivid short stories couched in rich, longing arrangements and with colourful, falling poetic imagery. There’ll be a third appearance by Ylja, perhaps opening up to their lusher dream-folk tendencies. With flavours of honky-tonk and Grand Ol’ Opry, rising festival favourite Frida Wallin brings us the End’s most straightforward country music set to date. (She’s actually Swedish. Don’t let on or anything…)



 

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The Battles of Winter + Metro Verlaine + MOSES (The Crypt Studio, 145a Crouch Hill, Crouch End, London, N8 9QH, UK, Saturday 14th November 2015, 7.30pm) – £5.50 – information

While Before The Gold Rush keeps the Americana and folk covered for the evening, the people at the Crypt hold down the indie and punk rock side of things. The Battles Of Winter embrace a driving post-punk indie sound compared to Echo & The Bunnymen, Interpol and The Doors. French “pop sauvage” trio Metro Verlaine are noisy electric romanticists inspired by the rush of Patti Smith/Richard Hell punk and the latterday spark of The Kills, as well as drawing on the original poète maudit fury of their namesake. The evening is opened by guttural punky rock’n’roll noise from M O S E S, who draw a London parallel to Wolf Mother and The Subways.



 

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The Wave Pictures + The Oreilles + Victor Lovlorne + Beverly + Pony & Trap + Nadine Khouri + Kindling + Annie Rew Shaw + Ryder Havdale + Kloak + Aphty Khea + Hudson Scott + Esther Joy Lane + others tbc (Hornsey Town Hall Arts Centre, The Broadway, N8 9JJ, London, UK, Saturday 14th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £16.50 – information

The big one. For this concert, at least thirteen performers will be taking up temporary residence in the battered but still beautiful Art Deco rooms of the former Town Hall, running quick-changeover mini-sets in the Supper Room, Committee Room and Council Chambers. Like a spontaneous party, the actual participants and their playing order seem to be in constant flux – as I quickly put this post together, the following seems to be the current setup.


Two bands are down from Yorkshire – The Wave Pictures (rattling Byrds-and-Motown garage-indie from Wymeswold) and teenaged Halifax trio The Orielles (a surf pop band from a landlocked town, teetering on the balance of their love of Riot Grrrl and the la-la-la). From America, buzz-pop Brooklyneers Beverly can’t quite make up their minds over whether to stick with Slowdive or Lush or to hit the accelerator pedal towards Surfin’ USA; pellmell Massachusetts indie-punks Kindling provide some rocket-powered shoegaze pop of their own. From Canada via Berlin, Ryder Havdale of The Mohawk Lodge might or might not come good on his promise to salt the lonesome indie-country rock of his main band with some Berlin-inspired electronics.



Several performers bring in captivating moods and stories. The blend of murmur, smouldering torch and cool eyed-vision in the work of Lebanese-British songcrafter Nadine Khouri has drawn comparisons with Patti Smith, PJ Harvey and Mazzy Star. Athenian-in-London singer Aphty Khea (a.k.a. MantRah) deals in self-produced slow-drag abstract soul and hip hop ideas; Texan gospel choir escapee and human love-wreck Victor Lovlorne in unsettling lo-fi basement ballads in a Will Oldham, Sparklehorse, Beefheart or Redbone vein. Piano singer Annie Rew Shaw mingles Christine McVie melodicism and wit with an eerie ghost-haunted songwriting style.




Of the rest, Kloak make a repeat appearance (this time unplugged) following their slot at Kiss The Sky earlier in the afternoon; Pony & Trap mix crisp girl-about-town rhythm-box funk with buzzy post-punk guitar hooks); and Oxford electropop diva Esther Joy Lane puts in an appearance, as does the elusive and underplugged Hudson Scott (at the moment, just a name on a wobbling list…)


 

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Emma Pollock + Ylja (Earl Haig Hall, 18 Elder Avenue, Crouch End, London, N8 9TH, UK, Sunday 15th November 2015, 8.00pm) – £8.50 – information

The last gig of the week features Scottish alternative rock heroine and onetime Delgados songwriter Emma Pollock, now three records into a solo career as well as being branched out into poly-genre supergroups (The Burns Unit) and socially-minded collective projects (The Fruit Tree Foundation), with her varied collaborations stretching well beyond her bright indie-pop beginnings to involve folk music, theatre work and string quartets. If you’re good, she might play you some songs from her upcoming album ‘In Search Of Harperfield’. Ylja, who by now are starting to look like the End’s house band, will play their fourth and final support slot of the festival at this gig.



 

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That’s all for this week, but I’ll try to put together a rundown of next week’s End gigs over the weekend…

 

Imminent June gigs at the Hope & Ruin in Brighton (Liebezeit & Irmler, Prolapse & Slum Of Legs), plus the tours they belong to

11 Jun

If I was a Brightonian, I suspect that I’d be spending quite a lot of evenings at the Hope & Ruin. Not only does it host some of the town’s most interesting gigs, its interior décor – patched together in a pack-rat/caddis-fly jumble of enthusiasm – makes it feel like the vessel   of some spacegoing carny out of ‘Firefly’ or ‘Doctor Who’.

I’m guessing that most people who’ve read the post title will already know all about these – since cult art, Brighton and a gossip grapevine make a happy mash – but two upcoming Hope & Ruin gigs have caught my attention. One features two leading lights of the original Krautrock/kosmische/German experimental rock scene (something else that’s become as Brightonian as the Pavilion). The other one sees the return of one of Britain’s more interesting wrangle-rock rackets from the 1990s: on this occasion, backed up by a more than worthy heir from the current decade. Both are stops on longer UK tours – I’ll include details on those as well.

Jaki Liebezeit & Hans Joachim Irmler @ The Hope & Ruin, 11-12 Queens Road, Brighton, BN1 3WA, UK, Thursday 17th June (doors 8.00pm)

The former Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit is one of the great beat stylists of experimental rock. Described as “a master of the pause and the stop”, he plays cutting, lean and propulsive rhythms from a small kit: alongside Neu!’s Klaus Dinger, he pioneered the mechanistic motorik beat which you’ll hear behind half a hundred nouveau-Krautrock bands. Hans Joachim Irmler () has had various multi-instrumental and production role in and around Faust over the years, but predominantly plays organ (a highly customisable transistor model which he built himself over forty years ago) and boxes-of-tricks (having created or co-created most of Faust’s unusual noise processors). Longstanding collaborators, Irmler and Liebezeit released the ‘FLUT’ album in 2014 featuring a “hypnotic maelstrom” of organ and drum improvisations. I’ve not reviewed it, but the ever-reliable ‘Quietus’ did – and it’s this vein of music which they’ll be performing.

More details here – although if you’re a fan, all of this will be old news and you’ll already have your tickets. If the Krautrock galaxy is still relatively new and obscure to you – and you’re within grabbing distance of Brighton – this sounds like the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in the cult. (If recent rumblings about Liebezeit’s retirement are true, it might also be one of your last opportunities to taste the original flavour). If you’re not in Brighton, note that there are also tour dates in London, Fife and Glasgow (beginning on Friday) as listed below:

    Sunday 14th June 2015 – Platform, The Bridge, 1000 Westerhouse Road, Glasgow, G34 9JW, UK – details here.
    Tuesday 16th June – Cafe OTO, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London E8 3DL, UK – details here.

Prolapse + Slum Of Legs @ The Hope & Ruin, 11-12 Queens Road, Brighton, BN1 3WA, UK, Tuesday 23rd June (doors 8.00pm)

Art-punks who emerged in the 1990s, Prolapse came up with a much more assured and individual take on the form than most, apparently by accident. The dual vocal frontline of Linda Steelyard and Mick Derrick (the former singing and the latter ranting,) often came across as disruptive theatre, a performance partnership which veered dramatically between combative duologues, utter disjunction or play-fights. Meanwhile the band behind them pegged brutally away on Krautrockian/Fall-esque rhythms, riffs and noises, like a Dada Hummvee worn down to its wheel-rims. The members have tended to claim that it all happened spontaneously and in general was a muckaround, but this was a band that was smart enough to work out when not to think – if you dug deep enough into them you found Master’s degrees, archaeologists, ceramicists and future journalists.

In 1999, after three albums and enough touring to wear them down, Prolapse very sensibly split up just before the point when it all became too frustrating. This year, having been enticed back from various locations and interesting jobs by Mogwai (who’ve invited them to play support at the latter’s 20th anniversary shows) they’ve opted to play a six-date UK tour, for which the other remaining dates are:

    Friday 19th June – The Maze, 257 Mansfield Road, City Centre, Nottingham, NG1 3FT, UK, 19th June (supported by Grey Hairs and Hot Shorts) – buy tickets here.

Playing support at the Brighton gig are Slum of Legs – an inspirational, instrument-swapping, all-female travelling brainstorm of a band. Although they have roots in Raincoats-style post-punk and Riot Grrl (and more than a few similarities to the spontaneous inventiveness of Prolapse) Slum Of Legs have a particular approach to lyric writing which is all their own – intricate, irreverent, literate and broad-ranging. So even if the musical style doesn’t altogether appeal to you, go for the sake of the words and see what else falls into place. (Again, I’m late to the table for this one, so I’ll refer you to this spray of enthusiasm from ‘Collapse Board’, which sets out a view of the Slum Of Legs stall in a way that’s far better, and probably far closer to their pulse, than I could right now.) More info on the gig is here.

CONCERT REVIEW – The Cox Cruise @ MV King Arthur, floating along the River Severn, Gloucestershire, early summer 2004 (featuring Earnest Cox, Ghosting, Charlie Says, Michael J. Sheehy & Paddy McCarthy of St Silas Intercession, Datapuddle) (“a self-propelled music bash”)

10 Apr

All we can see outside in the dark are moving, ghostly fronds – foliage bleached by the passing light spilling from our boat, nodding in the gusting winds above the lap of water. We’re on the river at night. We can’t see where we’re going, and we’ve entrusted our safety to a group of people with the seedy, ingratiating collective name of Earnest Cox. Things look bleak.

“It’s ‘Nam, man!” some joker screams suddenly. “Charlie’s out there, and he don’t surf! We’re all gonna die, man!”

He’s greeted by laughter. It’s all far, far too English for any of that: those nodding leaves we’re passing are in quiet Gloucestershire, and the River Severn isn’t winding us towards the heart of darkness… not unless Bristol’s having a really bad Saturday night. The double-decker boat we’re riding – the MV King Arthur – has been hired from the National Waterways Museum, and in under four hours we’ll have looped back to its safe berth in Gloucester. On the way, we’ll be enjoying a self-propelled music bash featuring the aforementioned Coxers and a little circle of related bands from Gloucester and London. There’s even a raffle. Cosy.

Had we set out a little earlier in the summer, and during the day, it would have been picnics and beer all round by now. As the red and gold lights of a jolly riverside pub bob past like a luminous Johnny Walker bottle, it’s clear that any actual weirdness will need to be handled by the bands. Crammed onto chairs on the makeshift band stage wedged into the top deck, Datapuddle do what they can. Alex Vald (who once played filthy guitar for Dream City Film Club) cradles an electric mandolin across his chest like a sulking cat. When not distractedly plucking and strumming at it as if he were plucking a chicken, his hands dart restlessly towards a litter of electronic gizmos on a table: a virtual theremin, a cheap sequencer, a plastic voice-changer and other bits of toy-box guts. Stephen Huddle plays sketchy acoustic guitar and pushes broken murmurs and mumbles of song up into Alex’s cobwebs of sound.

Datapuddle at The Cox Cruise

Datapuddle at The Cox Cruise

What ultimately emerges is a lo-fi cat’s-cradle of strung-together and slightly strung-out elements. Tidal dub; debris and dusty notes swept out of an Irish-American bar; bits of memory and reaction scattered like dandruff – all glued by static electricity and misfiring synapse energy to the guitar strings of a long-fried singer-songwriter. “Here’s a little sea shanty,” says Stephen brightly. A water-blip of electronics merges with a Lloyd Cole chug of guitar, rocking it on its rhythmic base. Alex buzzes a harmonica into an overlapping backwards loop, transforming it into a reversed melodica.

On the next song, trip-hop snare-drum smoke merges with psychedelic space whisper like the first skunked-out collision between Portishead and Hawkwind. Alex’s mandolin maintains a relentless, disappearing clang like a freight train bell, while Stephen mutters like Tom Waits ruffled from deep sleep. Peril – another shaggy-dog shanty written especially for tonight – namechecks the Severn amidst its steam-train chunter of knocks, old-school electro breaks, and harmonica rasps. “Don’t buy the brown acid,” Stephen sings, channelling up the confusion of a different party as ours sways cheerfully along the river.

Datapuddle come to a purring end with lashings of electric theremin wibble and a lengthy musical chew on a genuine melodica which has surfaced from their box of battered goodies. Watching them was like watching someone scrabble a shack together out of estuary trash and flotsam. In its way, it was just as raw and triumphant.

Paddy McCarthy & Michael J. Sheehy at The Cox Cruise.

Paddy McCarthy & Michael J. Sheehy at The Cox Cruise.

While the upstairs audience return to conversation and shore-spotting, Michael J. Sheehy and Paddy McCarthy are down below decks mopping up the leftovers (along with any beer that’s available). Cuddling a pair of honey-blonde acoustic guitars, the brothers from St Silas Intercession (and, previously, Dream City Film Club) have wedged themselves into a corner to hammer out rough’n’ready London-Irish punk blues as brutal as paving stones and hard-luck sneers. Eventually they’re joined by a wandering harmonica player and by a growing crowd of boozy party stragglers. Before too long, the corner turns into an enthusiastic trash-music shebeen (staggered over the changeover times between the acts upstairs) during which everyone’s treated to rattling, spat-out’n’spattered takes of the songs from the debut St Silas EP, starting with the vicious roar of You Don’t Live Here Anymore.

St Silas Intercession’s music is a London echo of the brutally direct and bluesy garage noise still spilling out of Detroit (and all of the little Detroits that have sprung up in the wake of Jack White or The Dirtbombs). Venomous as a dirty flick-knife and as blunt as masonry nails, it’s some way down the evolutionary tree from the corrupted sophistication of Sheehy’s recent songwriter albums, or even from the trawling sleaze of his old work with Dream City Film Club. Obviously the man himself couldn’t give a shit about all that: judging by the twinkle in his eyes and in Paddy’s, as they face each other off over sprawling riffs and hollers, they’ve rarely been happier with their music than now.

Paddy McCarthy at The Cox Cruise.

Paddy McCarthy at The Cox Cruise.

The brute-blues meanness of Get My Share has a good hard whiskey sting to it; as does the defiance of Caravan Rock (“me and my kids and their mum, / living in a caravan, moving on, moving on…”). A lacerating spurt through All About The Money sets people bobbing, scrambling and bouncing as well as a seven-and-a-half foot deck ceiling will allow. But as Paddy’s permanent goofy cartoon grin indicates, the St Silas brothers never take themselves too seriously. “It’s always about the money!” Michael protests, through a cheap megaphone. His voice suddenly jumps tracks from Louisiana bawl back through his London grit to an ‘EastEnders’ stage-Cockney. “You sla-a-a-g!”

Back upstairs, a dirty blonde in a cute plush cap is hammering a comradely nail into Mr Sheehy’s coffin. “Michael slags me off in his songs, and I slag him off in my songs,” explains Charlie Beddoes. Then she bowls us the rapaciously scornful putdowns of Vitriolic Alcoholic which kerb-kicks a snarling addict with a series of offhanded verbal wallops, culminating in “do I look like I give a toss? / It’s not my problem, not my loss.” It’s good to have friends.

The determined, diminutive Charlie is both the figurehead and the core of the shifting cult-of-personality that calls itself Charlie Says. Tonight, they’re three boot-babes and a moll-boy. Backed up by sidekick Ben Fisher’s car-crash guitar and by Lian and Kim Warmington’s ice-diva backing vocals and cool basilisk stares, Charlie plucks a remarkably articulate bass, sings like a breezeblock with lipstick and thuds out middle-weight girlpunk. Not short of charisma, Charlie holds the audience in the palm of her hand. The trouble is, she then rolls them around as if she doesn’t quite know what to do with them.

There’s a big difference between true punk and mere punk-ertainment, and Charlie Says wander a bit too close to the latter end of the scale. While Charlie’s former background in hip-hop art-rockers Rub Ultra is promising, discovering that both she and Ben are recent refugees from the touring band of tech-rocker Martin Grech pokes some suspicious holes in their lo-fi rebel stance. It just makes their music seem a little contrived. Not that the songs always help: It’s All About The Music is just another me-and-my guitar anthem, and Hey Leadfinger, Why You Gotta Keep Putting Me Down? is a foray into garage-blues which is far less interesting than its title is.

What pulls the band up out of fun-punk poseur-world are Charlie’s bright flickers of blunt humour and determination. The girlpower swagger of Venus Envy suddenly flings out “if the balls are in our court, then at least we have some,” while This Is Not My Story claims “whichever way it lands, my heart will keep on beating.” Little gems of lead-pipe wit and guts like this are what will make Charlie Says special; not desperate attempts to hitch onto whichever punk or garage soul flits past next. For the rest of the evening, I see Charlie perched here and there around the boat – beaming with life, always as if on the verge of delivering another breezy wisecrack. Let’s have more of that.

For all their efforts, Charlie Says don’t make me want to riot. Ghosting do… but I’d be rioting on their behalf. Five more minutes of hearing boozy party blabber drown out their beautiful, beautiful songs and I’d be flinging bottles around myself. Ghosting are heartbreakingly soft – as vulnerable and resilient as fresh grass bending underfoot. Unlike any other band this evening, they create little pockets of pure songcraft which you need to crane your head into to find out what’s going on.

Upfront, Dan Pierce picks out gentle acoustic guitar arpeggios which ride up into the atmosphere like thermals, and lets his voice follow suit. In the corner, wedged into a little cage of half-drumkit, laptop and miniature keyboard, George Moorey handles the rest. Intent and anxious-looking, he peers at his screen like a nervy microbiologist watching a virus proliferate. In fact, he’s just making sure that the sounds arrive on time – making tiny triggering adjustments to a mouse, reaching out one hand to roll off a gentle peal of Blue Nile piano, or swivelling to make precise soft taps on cymbal and snare with the single drumstick he holds in his other hand. It’s like watching someone play a one-man-band suit and conduct an orchestra at the same time. Yet even more impressive than this deft and diffident juggling act are the way Ghosting’s songs pool in the atmosphere – gradually, quietly filling up the space.

Dan’s big genial frame contains a songwriter’s spirit of rare and seductive delicacy. Faced with a chattering crowd, he simply shifts his guitar in his hands and sings soft, warm and open… and slowly the chatter drains away as the spell begins to work. Gently, Ghosting explore topics spanning all the way from frayed love songs (Your Love Don’t Make Sense) through thoughtful disillusion all the way to ending up being fingered as a murder suspect (Someone At The Door). Hopefully not as a natural progression – but if it was, you’d suspect that they’d’ve illustrated even that story with colossal and convincing sensitivity.

By the time Ghosting are midway through the exquisite, naked plea of I Want You To See Me, the crowd is hushed and half of them are hooked. Dan’s flexible and heartfelt singing – mostly a feather on tremulous breath, but rising to a swoony peak of intensity – sometimes recalls Mike Scott or Robert Forster at their very softest. In a fey, English, breathy way, he even has flashes of the fluttering abandonment of a Van Morrison or an Aaron Neville. Like them, he’s singing songs of real people grasping out at the intangible – unsure of what to believe on Anything That Might Be True, or “waiting for the one thing which really might have been some help,” on Good Year, only to wait in vain. Intangible desires, tangible heartaches. They’ll probably rise like damp rather than rockets, but I suspect that within a few years Ghosting will be very important to a lot of people.

Having put the whole cruise together in the first place, Earnest Cox get a well-deserved heroes’ welcome once they arrive onstage. They respond with perhaps their most energetic and assured set to date. It’s the third or fourth time I’ve caught the Cox, over a time when I’ve watched their sturdy intelligence getting to grips with lacing together their multiple influences. It’s taken a while for their mixture of old Memphis R’n’B, ’60s lad-rock, ’80s indie textures and prowling street poetry to gel.

Tonight it does with a vengeance. Hello Stranger sweeps out of the gate with a swagger of rogue testosterone coupled with a smart and beady eye, as Cox singer La Windo immediately takes on the audience with his particular blend of strut and twice-burned wariness. Perhaps it’s recent honeymoon rejuvenations or perhaps it’s the side effects of squabbling over their current recordings, but Earnest Cox are smouldering tonight. Still looking like a disparate houseful of mature students (the band’s a bewildering range of types from motherly to mysterious, from rogue to stockbroker) they continue to draw on what’s in them already rather than trying to squeeze themselves into an image.

The rhythm section used to be little more than agreeably white’n’slightly-funky: now it’s moving towards a lubricious slippery groove, with bass player/occasional MC Simon abandoning cheese and cheeriness to join drummer Shane in seriously flexing the pocket. Nicola parachutes in flights of piano, springs of Booker T. Hammond organ or splurges of synth when she needs to, while Marc buries himself in the middle of the band, cooking up lightly-textured mats of funky guitar texture to fly blurs across the gaps.

Up front, where you’d expect to find a preening Rod Stewart lookalike, La continues to prowl like a Gloucester merging of Shaun Ryder and Lou Reed, delivering his narratives of edgy small-town life like the most restless man in the pub and shaking his percussion as if testing the heft of a throwing knife. He looks pretty handy: yet the Cox don’t exactly trade on casual violence, even when La hurls out scathing fighting talk on You’re Not Fit To Lick (The Shit From My Shoes).

Rather, they seize on restlessness in general, whether it’s randiness, boredom, the unease as your parents age towards death, or the bumps in love’s road. There’s swagger, vengeance and one-upmanship aplenty in songs like Two Can Play At That Game, Baby and Scratching The Same Old Itch: yet in spite of this Earnest Cox’s songs are about survival if they’re about anything. No More Happy Endings treads the ashes of hopes and securities with the dogged, battered trudge of someone who’s had the knocks, has sagged, but won’t go down yet.

The Cox’s musical cockiness almost makes them part of that line of lad’s bands dipping in and out of pubs, taverns and speakeasys (and finally Royal Command performances). Yet the way the bruises on the songs never entirely fade (and the way that La quietly retreats into himself, gaze distracted, mid-song) hints at a band who’ve accepted, even embraced, the dragging baggage of personal history rather than saturating themselves in adolescent posing. Marc’s refusal to play the role of the strutting guitar stud (keeping his back almost entirely turned to La and the audience as he brews up his noises) confirms it and heightens the internal dignity beyond the Cox’s miscellaneous looks.

Perhaps it’s this mixture of getting by, getting on and getting on with it even within limited horizons that makes Earnest Cox local heroes on the Gloucester scene. The familiar tastes of that stew of pop ingredients they serve it up with, plus their band’s anti-glorious English universality and their bumpy everyman charisma should win them friends around the country, whether or not they bring their boat with them.

As the Cox set hits its climax, we look up and find ourselves back in the Gloucester lock. Hometime, Charlie.

Datapuddle online:
Homepage TwitterMySpace Bandcamp LastFM

Michael J. Sheehy online:
Facebook MySpace LastFM

Miraculous Mule (what Sheehy/McCarthy/St Silas Intercession did next) online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud LastFM

Charlie Says online:
Homepage

Ghosting online:
Homepage MySpace Bandcamp

Earnest Cox online:
MySpace

MV King Arthur online:
Homepage

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JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

eyesplinters

Just another WordPress.com site

FormerConformer

Striving for Difference

musicmusingsandsuch

The title says it all, I guess!

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