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April/May 2019 – upcoming English gigs – soul, folk, hip hop, poetry, glimmer pop and more on Lilith Ai’s Bare Radical tour through Cambridge, Bradford, Nottingham, Bristol, Reading and London (9th/14th/19th April, 1st/3rd/9th May) with her assorted support club of singer-songwriters, performance poets, folksters and dream/garage rockers

8 Apr

If you just took Lilith Ai at her word as being the possessor of a “pretty mouth and a dirty tongue”, and you’d also heard that she rapped, you’d be expecting a London version of Nikki Minaj.


 
Not the case. A more accurate parallel would be a latterday Joan Armatrading, or perhaps a lower-key Lauryn Hill; Lilith’s an accomplished and intimate singer-songwriter drawing subtly on folk, soul, hip-hop and R&B and pulling them onwards. Comparisons will only get you so far, though, since Lilith bypasses Armatrading’s discreet ’70s reticence and instead owns a lippier and punkier streak; and although she shares Hill’s love of a street beat, a bent note and a woke stance, she lacks the latter’s self-righteous, self-sabotaging chippiness. Dirty tongue claims notwithstanding, she’s also less of an out’n’out cusser than she might suggest. The occasion f-bomb strike is part of the no-nonsense, “you-can-stop-right-there-boy” feminism which provides the steely core to what she does: offset by the engaging warmth of an artist who is as much interested in people as in stances.

The British music biz isn’t always kind to talented black girls with guitars – Joan might have done OK, but whatever happened to Peppercorn? – but Lilith isn’t the sort to be eaten alive. Untangling her past provides some interesting complexities and clashes. There’s some fine material for legend-building here – her mingled Afro, Chinese and Indian ancestry, and the fact that she spent part of her early twenties sleeping rough and near-penniless in both Tottenham and Queens (at one point in a wrecked car, later towed away in a scenario that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Tom Waits song). Set against that is her additional background as a music school grad who can hang with and work alongside a surprising breadth of allies, from fearsome bluespunknoise grrlforce Skinny Girl Diet to rising fashion aristocracy in the shape of Georgia May Jagger.



 
The key to understanding how this all fits together is in how Lilith structures her approach to art and community. With artistic roots in comic-writing geekery, she’s always had a strong sense of mood and detail. Later along the line, as a developing songwriter, she’s allied it to a fervent desire to create a mostly female (and queer-friendly) movement which rejects counterproductive competitive bitchery in favour of an ethic of sympathy and mutual support, stepping up to political solidarity. All of this also needs to be seen through the arty barrier-trashing lens of punk spirit, which explains her Fight Like A Girl crew. A loosely-defined friendship-in-art arrangement, F.L.A.G. is a feminist/LGBT+ art/music collective inspired equally by late ’70s summers of Britpunk, by the political ferment of ’90s Olympia and by latterday movements like #TimesUp. It involves zinework, recording and enthusiastic intimate gigs in makeshift scratch locations, all within a fearless female atmosphere allied to a sense that rigid genre (and rigid gender) boundaries are less important than constructive intent and political engagement.

While Lilith’s upcoming Bare Radical mini-tour isn’t explicitly a Fight Like A Girl event, it bears all of the hallmarks. It’s packed with other female artists (plus assorted sympathetic male players and a hefty proportion of non-binary artists) and takes place in a dissimilar scatter of formal venues and found spaces in bookshops, community centres, cafes and co-operatives up and down England. Lilith will also be laying off on her beats and concentrating on the acoustic/unplugged side of things as she performs and promotes her new ‘Bare Radical’ EP. She’s still budding, still climbing, poised on the lip of the excellence her early work promised. Now is a perfect time to join the event, while she’s still in venues close enough to share breath.



 
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Along for most of the dates is the delightfully energised craft-popper Myles McCabe (generally best known as guitarist for London pop punkers Fresh), who’s playing at Cambridge, Bradford and Nottingham with his Me Rex project. On the surface Myles has got a pretty high tweeness count. All of his Rex albums and EPs are named after prehistoric creatures from mammoths to stegosauri, most of his pet sounds are cheap ones (synth parps, guitar clunks, snatches of bedroom rave, a little piano), and his voice is sweetly vulnerable, bending under a little rhotacistic twist and folding like paper on the high notes.

On the other hand, there’s a blazing articulate passion to what he does, his songs volcanoing out of an initial small hotspot and expanding into broadening emotional tapestries in which simple ideas link inexorably to others like agitated mercury blobs, layering into a gorgeous pop outburst. He describes himself as “kind of like a cross between Art Brut and Kraftwerk. That started off as a pun about arts & crafts but then I really liked the way it sounded.” It’s a good gag, but self-deflating indie jokes aren’t really what he’s about.


 
At Cambridge, a couple of singer-songwriters are hoppping on board. There’s local girl Helen Robertson, an enthusiastic music homecrafter and constant collaborator who (although she seems to have been a bit quiet recently) released a twelve-month sprint of EPs across 2014. Hers is an unfussy, chameleonic, DIY hobby-table approach which embraces strummy-or-noisy kitchen-sink indie, blobby instrumental synth pop, pub gig comedy, and various overdubbed a cappella work from solo folk-pop chorales to patter songs. There’s also Sophie Foster, the self-professed teenaged “lever harp megababe” who usually lurks behind the name of The Sunday School. To be honest, I’m baffled about her: this brief appearance on YouTube and the couple of Soundcloud demos below suggests that rather than harping she blip-pongs away on a little keyboard and murmurs reflections on uncertainties and diary notes; while other Soundcloudings suggest a lo-fi guitar trudger, and there’s something else on Spotify which I don’t know about thanks to my still holding out on the platform. Her Twitter presence suggests someone fierce and grrly behind the whispering.

I’m guessing that Sophie’s someone whom you have to discover and to follow live for quite a while, picking up scraplings before you get the full story. As for Helen, attempting to pick a key track seems to be a waste of time, so I’m just throwing three together at random here.

 
It’s the same at Bradford, where self-propelled onetime busker-for-a-bet Liam Jarvis joins the bill, alongside gently punk-oustic Leeds folkie Sarah Carey (whose music is divided between disaffected urban acoustica and committed folk baroque instrumentals, groping between them for a doorway to somewhere better). I’ve got nothing for Liam, but here’s Sarah:


 
In Nottingham, Lilith’s supported by both Jemma Freeman & The Cosmic Something and Matt Abbott. Once the guitarist for heavy dream-rockers Landshapes, Jenna now offers up sardonic psychedelic glam-rocking with a band featuring Furniture/Transglobal Underground drummer Hamilton Lee, moonlighting producer/bassist Mark Estall, and Krupa on synth and backing vocals. Wakefield wordsmith Matt runs the spoken word label Nymphs & Thugs and both writes and performs poetry for kids and adults replete with “socio-political commentary, human struggle and kitchen sink realism” (plus, for the kids “playful rebellion (and the) challenging (of) societal stereotypes”).




 
Matt and Me Rex both resurface for the London date, which also features a pair of junior traditioneers in the shape of “teenage lo-fi soul singer” Charlie Mburaki (who sang with Lilith on the latter’s recent Warrior Queen) and drawling junior-Dylan-esque folk rocker Oliver Rodzianko

 
There are more fierce, plangent words at the Bristol gig. It’s a free event in a bookshop in which punk and slam poetry have an equal presence to musicin the shape of Bridget Hart (teller of tough, gritty tales and compiler of a poetic “love-letter to women and female solidarity”) and in the sliding, pulsing genderqueer cadences of Aiysha’s accounts and explorations of “mental illness, love, trauma and gender identity”.

Also on hand is the slow, sad, beautiful “shimmer pop” and voiceloops of Georgie Biggins, a.k.a. GINS, who from one angle sounds like a lo-fi gender-swapped bedsit Blue Nile passed through an a capella dream-pop filter and from another like f.k.a. Twigs morphing into ’90s goth-wispers Cranes. Don’t be entirely misled by the soft and introverted textures, though. Underneath Georgie’s apparent mournfulness, the gossamer delicacy and the blurred, haunting visuals there’s both resistance and outright challenge, just framed in a different way; the secret thought that’s a couple of steps away from a marching flag.



 
GINS is also onboard for the Reading show, where Lilith is joined by the fluttering acoustic pop-soul singing of Amya-Ray; by the sometimes-psychedelic, sometimes-instrumental acoustic-indie-folk of Colours & Fires (who’ve placed themselves firmly on the gender-equality frontlines); and by the mysterious, frankly undocumented RIYA (who could be punk or poet, first-person singular or group, for all the info they’ve provided… but the open-ended mystery’s at least in keeping with the rest of the Bare Radical openness).

 

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Full Lilith Ai ‘Bare Radical’ tour dates:

  • The Blue Moon, 2 Norfolk Street, Cambridge, CB1 2LF, Cambridgeshire, England – Tuesday 9th April 2019, 9.00pm (with Me Rex + Sophie Foster + Helen Robertson) – information here and here
  • The 1 in 12 Club, 21-23 Albion Street, Bradford, BD1 2LY, England – Sunday 14th April 2019, 7.00pm (with Me Rex + Sarah Carey + Liam Jarvis) – information here and here
  • City Arts, 11-13 Hockley, Nottingham, NG1 1FH, England – Friday 19th April 2019, 7.00pm (with Me Rex + Jemma Freeman & the Cosmic Something + Matt Abbott) – information here and here
  • Hydra Books, 34 Old Market Street, Bristol, BS2 0EZ, England – Wednesday 1st May 2019, 7.00pm (with GINS + Bridget Hart + Aiysha) – free event – information here and here
  • Reading University Students Union, Whiteknights Campus, Reading, Berkshire, RG6 6AZ, England – Friday 3rd May 2019, 7.30pm (with GINS + RIYA + Amya-Ray + Colours & Fires) – information here and here
  • VFD, 66 Stoke Newington Road, Shacklewell, London, N16 7XB, England – Thursday 9th May 2019, 8.00pm (with Me Rex + Matt Abbott + Charlie Mburaki + Oliver Rodzianko) – information here, here and here

 

April/May 2019 – upcoming folk/experimental gigs – Sam Lee’s ‘Singing With Nightingales’ season

30 Mar

Details on the upcoming season of Sam Lee’s ‘Singing With Nightingales’ – slightly massaged press text follows…

'Singing With Nightingales', April/May 2019

“Join folk singer, song collector and nature lover Sam Lee in the forest, sit by the fireside and listen to intoxicating song, as some of the finest musicians in the land duet with the sweet sound of the nightingale. Immerse yourself in the folklore and ways of our native birds, savour the music of world-renowned guest artists from folk, classical, world music, and jazz arenas. Join us in a rare and thrilling journey as darkness falls upon the springtime woodlands of Kent, Sussex and Gloucestershire from 18th April to 26th May.

“Each year, for a few months from mid-April, a few thousand nightingales fly to the southern UK from Africa. They can be heard in just a small number of special locations, taking up songful residence after dusk. The territorial males serenade loyally each night for no more than six weeks among the blackthorn and forest margins, giving unbelievable privilege to those who know where to go. Inspired by infamous recordings of cellist Beatrice Harrison playing with nightingales as far back as 1924, Sam has been hosting reverent celebrations of this endangered bird each spring since 2014. These events have spanned multiple events at four different sites, a ‘Pick of The Year’ BBC Radio 4 documentary, a critically acclaimed adaptation for theatres and concert halls, and many broadcasts on BBC Radio 3.

“As well as the outdoor night shows, you can also enjoy the sound of the nightingales’ song in the comfort of concert halls across the UK from 14th April. After a hugely popular run in 2018, our ‘Singing With Nightingales: Live’ tour is back, bringing you diverse musicians in relaxed, low-lit settings improvising in collaboration with live birdsong via live broadcast feed from the countryside. Joining Sam on stage will be a duo (depending on the date) of either violin-playing jazz world/folk singer Alice Zawadzki plus kora-playing Senegalese Griot Kadialy Kouyate, or Welsh folk-singer/songwriter/harpist Georgia Ruth plus Bristolian post-jazz trumpeter/multi-instrumentalist Pete Judge. In addition, an abridged version of ‘Singing With Nightingales: Live’ will feature at London’s South Bank as the late show in the ‘Absolute Bird’ concert (a night of classical music inspired by birdsong).


 
“Brand new for this year, we are launching a mini festival experience with the nightingales at Fingringhoe Wick , Essex, on 27th April. Hosted by Sam, the night will feature three performances from Irish 10-string drone fiddler Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh and from experimental songwriters and instrumentalists Serafina Steer and Cosmo Sheldrake, all joined in song with the nightingale.

We’re offering return travel from London for selected events; and we’re very happy to say that we have received some funding from Arts Council England which means we’re able to put a number of concessions tickets on sale for selected events. These are strictly for people on low income. We also have a number of concession tickets available for our Singing With Nightingales Festival event at Fingringhoe Wick nature reserve, Essex on April 27th.”

Other musicians involved in the open air concerts come from a variety of different genres. There are classical and jazz flautists (Paul Cheneour; and Marsyas Trio‘s Helen Vidovich) and assorted polygenre players (eclectic South African cellist Abel Selaocoe, post-classical/post-folk chamberist Kate St John, Globe Theatre music director Bill Barclay, multi-instrumental composer Christo Squier). There are singers from various strands of contemporary folk (Lisa Knapp, Furrow Collective’s Lucy Farrell, ESKA) and soul-jazz singer-cellist Ayanna Witter-Johnson. There’s the choral work of vocal trio Blood Moon Project (featuring Heloise Tunstall Behrens, Tanya Auclair and Luisa Gerstein). There are also representatives of music from further afield (Zimbabwean singer/mbira master Chartwell Dutiro, travelling shakuhachi-ist Adrian Freedman, Afghan music specialists John Baily & Veronica Doubleday and Dublin vocalist Fergus “Faró” Cahillane, the latter known for Irish and Irish/Viking acappella folk work with Anúna and M’anam).


 
Update, 13th April – in the latest development, ‘Singing With Nightingales’ is linking up in London with the Extinction Rebellion movement, on 29th April, for a “peaceful sit down intervention” in central London, called ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square‘:

“In the midst of the heightened attention to climate change and environmental catastrophe we want to bring people together in celebration of the musical beauty of the natural world. Poets, musicians and nature lovers will join together to perform the most romantic rebellion.

“Written in 1939, the renowned ballad tells of the impossible moment when a now critically endangered nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos) sings in Mayfair’s famous garden square. Nightingales have not been heard in Central London, let alone Mayfair, for several hundred years. However, through the magical power of people and technology this April 29th, XR, Sam Lee, The Nest Collective and a pop-up flash mob of nature enthusiasts, musicians and supporters will gather to rewild nightingale song back into Berkeley Square.

“Through synchronised streaming of the nightingale’s mesmeric yet seldom heard courtship song via mobile phones and mobile speakers, our pop-up action will fill the park and surrounding streets with the song of a creature nearing extinction on this island. The birdsong will be accompanied by offerings from musicians, singers, poets and anyone who wants to collaborate with the finest singer in the world. This central London rewilding action aims to bring poetic focus to the shocking demise of our own native species and give Londoners the opportunity to hear a once ubiquitous songbird, now near extinct in the UK, in its mythic notional home.”

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Full dates for everything:

Open-air shows at Green Farm Kent, Church Lane, Shadoxhurst, Kent, TN26 1LS, England

  • Friday 19th April 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Bill Barclay) – information here and here
  • Saturday 20th April 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Paul Cheneour) – information here and here
  • Sunday 21st April 2019 (featuring Sam Lee & Christo Squier) – information here and here
  • Friday 17th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Helen Vidovich) – information here and here
  • Saturday 18th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Abel Selaocoe) – information here and here
  • Sunday 19th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Blood Moon Project) – information here and here

Open-air shows at a secret location near Spithurst, Lewes, Sussex, BN8 5EF, England

  • Thursday 25th April 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh) – information here and here
  • Friday 26th April 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh) – information here and here
  • Friday 3rd May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Lisa Knapp) – information here and here
  • Saturday 4th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Kate St John) – information here and here
  • Sunday 5th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Ayanna Witter-Johnson) – information here and here
  • Monday 6th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Lucy Farrell) – information here and here
  • Saturday 25th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee + ESKA + John Baily & Veronica Doubleday) – information here and here
  • Sunday 26th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Fergus Cahillane) – information here and here

Open-air shows at Highnam Woods, Highnam, Gloucestershire, GL2 8AA, England

  • Thursday 9th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Pete Judge) – information here and here
  • Friday 10th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Chartwell Dutiro) – information here and here
  • Saturday 11th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Adrian Freedman) – information here and here

‘Singing With Nightingales: Live’ (indoor concerts)

  • Ropetackle Arts Centre, Little High Street, Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex, BN43 5EG, England – Sunday 14th April 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee + Alice Zawadzki + Kadialy Kouyate) – information here and here
  • The Old Fire Station, 40 George Street, Oxford, OX1 2AQ, England – Tuesday 23rd April 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee + Alice Zawadzki + Kadialy Kouyate) – information here and here
  • Warwick Arts Centre, University Road, Coventry, CV4 7AL, England – Wednesday 24th April 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee + Alice Zawadzki + Kadialy Kouyate) – information here and here
  • Dartington Hall, Totnes, Devon, TQ9 6EL, Tuesday 30th April 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee + Alice Zawadzki + Kadialy Kouyate) – information here and here
  • Wyeside Arts Centre, Castle Street, Builth Wells, LD2 3BN, Wales – Wednesday 8th May 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee + Pete Judge + Georgia Ruth) – information here and here
  • St Laurence’s Church, Church Street, Stroud, GL5 1JL, England – Wednesday 15th May 2019, … (featuring Sam Lee + Pete Judge + Georgia Ruth) – information here and here.
  • Gulbenkian Theatre, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NB, England – Wednesday 22nd May 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee + Pete Judge + Georgia Ruth) – information here and here
  • Junction II @ Cambridge Junction, Clifton Way, Cambridge, CB1 7GX, England – Thursday 23rd May 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee + Pete Judge + Georgia Ruth) – information here and here
  • ’Absolute Bird: Translating Nature’ Queen Elizabeth Hall @ Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, Waterloo, London, SE1 8XX, England – Friday 24th May 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee, Alice Zawadzki plus selected members of City of London Sinfonia) – information here and here.

Singing With Nightingales: Festival (with Sam Lee + Serafina Steer + Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh + Cosmo Sheldrake)
Visitor Centre @ Fingringhoe Wick Nature Reserve, South Green Road, Colchester, Essex, CO5 7DN, England
Saturday 27th April 2019, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

Extinction Rebellion: ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’
Berkeley Square, Mayfair, London, W1J, England
Monday 29th April 2019, 6.00pm
– information here
 

February/March/April/May 2019 – upcoming English experimental/rock gigs – Markers and Haress on tour with appearances by Tom House, Anji Cheung, Caius Burns and Aby Vulliamy; plus later dates with Jaye Jayle and Motes

23 Feb

One of the connections which particularly intrigues me (for which read “always baffles me and induces me to go over it again”) is the one between folk music and hardcore punk. Apparently it’s a love based on a number of things – the inclination towards keeping to the basics, the austerity which is fostered both by that and by a distrust of commercialism and toys, a sense of political purity and of dodging corruption… It’s perhaps a little one-sided – punk tends to love folk more, although you’ll get some acknowledgement coming back the other way, increasingly so as more young folkies grow up with punk. Regardless of the relative exchange, you’ll see quite a bit of traffic moving around here. An upcoming British tour looks into this particular dynamic and feel, at the stripped-down point where the genres meet: along the way, there are more overlappings and enfoldings.

Markers on tour, February-May 2019Markers’ Jodie Cox always seemed like a gifted guy that strolled into hardcore with a positive attitude, rather than hunching or raging his way into it. Even when he was blitzing and shrieking away at the front of short-lived London seedbedders Ursa during the late ‘90s, he seemed cheerfully unlimited by the constraints of form. Ever since then (via transatlantic journeys through Earth, Narrows, Bullet Union, Sex Swing, Exes and others) he’s always seemed to be where he wanted to be rather than being forced into it: a sunny, enthusiastic character who’s helped humanise and hearten any project he’s been in. Jodie’s bandmate, contemporary and friend Jason Carty began his career in the same time and place. Stubborn, meticulous and sometimes anxious, he twitched and reeled various fluent post-rock/prog/post-metal guitar complexities through Geiger Counter and Foe like a ferocious engraver, then threw all of that aside to play blattering post-hardcore doom bass in Art Of Burning Water before embracing silence for a number of years.

Now reunited and united, Jason and Jodie’s all-instrumental work as Markers sees the two of them eschewing other musicians and hairy-arsed distortion in order to see what they can get out of two (mostly) clean electric guitars. Their debut album ‘Heaven In The Dark Earth’ is a beautifully executed thing. As Jodie’s put it elsewhere, rather than roaring easily through fuzz they’re now aiming for something “tonally heavy” (Even if they have covered Jesus Lizard, they went for one of that gonzo band’s rarer gentle tunes, and it came out sounding like late lamented bass frowners Rothko.)

Markers’ music is immediately atmospheric, recorded at a larger-than-life scale in which the listener feels as if they’re about a foot high, wandering around the duo’s feet and their suddenly gargantuan amplifiers. When processing does turn up it’s mostly in the form of encompassing shivers of reverb, or discreet echo – wider brushstrokes and spongeings to complement delicate penwork. Apart from that it’s wood, wire, pickups and an intuitive, space-filled musical marriage between the two players, pursuing a fluid sparseness and a sombre/passionate flaring of arpeggios and arabesques, flotsam folk figures and fragments rubbed smooth enough for their provenance to stay ambiguous. It’s a kind of post-industrial classical guitar, making the most of sparse resources and close-mouthedness, mysterious conversations through fingers and dusty speaker-cones. These buggers always had a lot more depth than previous circumstances have allowed them to show: or perhaps, more than they allowed themselves to make clear. In Markers, they no longer have either of these problems.


 
Following their recent showing at a mid-February gig in Brighton (hands up, I admit that I missed it) Markers are setting out on tour with kindred spirits Haress. Hailing from arty market town Bishop’s Castle in Shropshire, Haress are fundamentally the guitar duo of David Hand and Elizabeth Still. Mantric, minimalist, low-hanging and close-knit, theirs is a music in which several tight and lowering musical disciplines meets. Art-rock, hardcore edge, meditational post-rock and American electric folk fragments emerge via very loud, mostly clean electric guitars (on the lip of distortion and at the precarious peak of electromagnetic responsiveness) and meet shruti and amp drones plus delicate percussion tingles. Below are a couple of clips of David and Elizabeth meeting inside and outside:



 
Haress sometimes expand for live dates. The current ones see them augmented by a third guitarist (Chris Summerlin of dubby Notts psych/noise-ians Kogumaza, accelerated post-Beefheart screamers Wolves of Greece, and bluescore trio Lord), by a singer (Tom House, best known as the frontman for a pair of Brighton bands, hollering post-hardcore act Charlottefield and its more tender-fleshed followup Sweet Williams) and by drummer David Smyth of Liverpudlian synthcore/space-punks Kling Klang. No clips for that, I’m afraid…

At the London show (also the Markers album launch, with ticket/LP/download bundles available for those who want them), Anji Cheungprovides “audio intermissions”. She was in here earlier this month being previewed at the Matthew Shaw/English Heretic show, sandwiched between rural synth ambience and psychogeographic audio-visual. I can’t immediately improve much on what I said about her back then, so here it is again – “unnerving, frowning amplifier buzzes rolling over the listener like a gigantic clumsy wheel, with dramatically chopped/distorted/otherwise incomprehensible vocals implying pirate-radio-eavesdropping on a covert ritual… car-boot clatter under a lowering sky… beautiful lost female murmur-melodies stalked by drainage-ditch fuzz…. Another aspect of New Weird Britain: ambiguously multicultural and urban, mixing and obscuring London and Chinese references, but sounding mostly as if it stems from a place where jerry-built tower blocks break up old fields around the city’s tired periphery and where unknown syncretic practises are carried out (perhaps only half-understood even by the people involved).”



 
In Nottingham, Kagoule’s frontman Caius Burns will be bolstering the evening: sidestepping the noisy fantastical post-hardcore of his main band to deliver an acoustic voice-and-guitar set of his own songs, all in an old-school folk baroque form complete with slippery Jantschian fingerpicking. (And here he is in transient mode, halfway between folk and electropop…)

 
The Shipley show is the most extensive on the mini-tour: a four-act event with Tom House stepping forward out of the Haress lineup to perform a set of his own queasy, sludgy, draggy-pop slowcore. Hometown girl Aby Vulliamy is also joining the evening. A multi-instrumentalist (piano, viola, flute, musical saw, accordion) and singer/composer across a remarkable range of genres, she was covered in here a few years ago via her part-written/part-improvised Mothercore project, in which she teamed up with established musicians Laura Cole and Maria Jardardottir plus an ever-shifting cast of local musician/mothers who joined in whenever the main trio rolled into their town. Mothercore was inspired by, and triggered by, the ambiguous experience of motherhood, and appears to have led into last year’s long-overdue Aby solo album, ‘Spin Cycle’.

If Mothercore thrived on solidarity, ‘Spin Cycle’ places itself, sometimes unnervingly, on “mother alone yet not alone”: its songs tracing their way across a webwork of maternal experience (broader voicings of political anger at the forcing of roles onto women of childbearing age; the claustrophobic vortex of love, fear and exhaustion surrounding breastfeeding; an awareness of the greater female timespan of girl baby to young woman, watched over by mother all the way). Depending on your gender, your situation and where you are in your own lifespan, it’ll either shed light onto a much generalised-over, much-misunderstood state of being, or simultaneously rue and celebrate what’s one of the greatest and most turbulent tasks, all to a DIY backing of diverse, intimate floating-folk instrumentation.





 
The final tour show, in Liverpool, is just Haress and Markers on their own. I can’t tell you where the Old Brazilian Embassy is, although longstanding Liverpudlians might be able to hazard a guess, while the organisers appear to be a collective who throw concerts at home and overlap with avant-garde rock ensemble Ex-Easter Island Head (so now you know who to chase up and pester if you really want to come). Apparently this isn’t the only show these guys are putting on, although the proximity of neighbours and license issues means that they’ve got to keep the volume down… Merseyside art musicians who operate at the quiet end of things, here’s a new place to beat a pathway to (if you can find it yourself).

Outside the tour, Haress and Tom House will also be plying their trade at a mid-March gig in Bristol, for which they’re joined by obscure Somersetters Motes, who come bearing the priceless label of “drunk-minimal/hypnotist-un-rock based at the ventriloquistic intersection of Barrow Gurney and Old Market”. There’s no way I can better that sentence – it’s its own short film, all by itself – but here they are, playing a couple of their lo-fi guitar-and-drum, barn-under-the-motorway scrambles:



 

San Haress, Markers go on to play a couple of dates in Brighton and Leeds on the cusp of April and May with American “dark-indie” band Jaye Jayle. Formed in Louisville around onetime Young Widows songwriter Evan Patterson and with other personnel sporting a history including The For Carnation, Freakwater, and Phantom Family Halo, Jay Jayle connect American roots music and Southern Gothic musical sensibilities with drone, garage rock, and bits of kosmische analogue-tronic drive (much of it brought by Corey Smith’s “auxiliary instrumentation”). They’re an exciting thrumble of Velvets-y deathmarch, down-home fucked-up country backroads, factory sirens, momentary blackouts and haunted, incoherent confessionals. They sing the songs of drifters on long, dark trips; of people in back-prickling situations; and of people who’ve picked at the scabs of guarded obscure places just enough to show you why you shouldn’t pick at any more of them. Jay Jayle are compelling. I think I’ll be back to give them another listen.



 

Also on hand at the first of those two shows – the one in Brighton – is Nick Hudson’s own home-grown take on the “psychedelic dystopian gnostic-Gothic post-punk” approach, The Academy Of Sun. Some overlap with Jay Jayle’s sound, perhaps, but quite a bit more verbose and self-consciously literary, to be honest. Somewhere between Johnny Cash and dark cabaret, with a dash of biting chanson – but then as Brightoneers they’re not much more than a stone’s throw away from either the sea or Nick Cave (and, judging by the sound of this, from a mouldering salt-stained stack which when pulled apart bursts into a sprawl of old Furniture records and bright West Coast glad-rags).



 
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Dates:

Markers & Haress on tour:

  • Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England – Tuesday 26th February 2019, 8.00pm(Markers album release gig, also featuring Anji Cheung) – information here, here and here
  • JT Soar, 2 Aberdeen Street, Nottingham, NG3 1JB, England – Friday 15th March 2019, 7.30pm(also featuring Caius Burns) – information here
  • The Triangle, 47 Bradford Road, Shipley, Bradford, West Yorkshire, BD18 3DS, England – Saturday 16th March 2019, 7.00pm (also featuring Tom House + Aby Vulliamy) – information here
  • The Old Brazilian Embassy, somewhere in Liverpool, England – Sunday 17th March 2019 – ask around for information

Haress + Tom House + Motes
The Old England, 43 Bath Buildings, Bristol, BS6 5PT, England
Thursday 14th March 2019, 8.00pm
– information here

Jay Jayle and Markers:

 

February/March 2019 – upcoming British folk/experimental gigs – Bell Lungs on tour with Raiments (20th February to 2nd March, various) with appearances by Despicable Zee, Michael Clark, The Nature Centre, Halcyon Jane, Tara Clerkin Trio and various DJs. Plus sundry other Bell Lungs shows in March including a København evening with Hugh Tweedie and Tanja Vesterbye Jessen, a show with David Toop and Rashad Becker, a date with Gaze Is Ghost.

16 Feb

Working with a multi-instrumental, device-heavy palette which includes guitar, harmonium, Omnichord, electric violin, lyre, bouzouki, saz, voice and a host of effects pedals, avant-folk singer/writer/sometime promoter Ceylan Hay (a.k.a. Bell Lungs) sits at the middle of a host of possible routes. Her sound incorporates post-folk and drone, dream pop, noise and free improv, psychedelia and site-specific realisations, while her psychohistorian subject matter takes in the ancient, the near-ancient and the presently numinous: probing prehistoric spaces, the ghosts of the industrial age, day-to-day feelings and the slide into a new virtual existence space via online culture.

Reflecting these overlaid levels (and what might be, at different perspective points, either shockingly near or completely occluded), her vocal delivery steps between ornamental trad-folk crenellations, feathery ambient warbles and horrific screams. You can never quite tell whether she’s going to lull you or scare you, but you know she cares about what she’s ferrying across to you.

With a new EP, the wintry ‘Wolves Behind Us‘, to promote (apparently it’s a return to folk and landscapes after recent science fiction/site-specific digressions, and is “Joan Aiken’s ‘Wolves of Willoughby Chase’, Olaf Stapledon’s ‘Last and First Men’, caravan living in the Highlands and the ancient cosmology idea of dividing the year into two halves; the opening and closing of the wolf’s mouth”), Bell’s embarking on five weeks of touring (primarily alongside Raiments) through Scotland, England, Wales, followed up by other Raiments-less shows in Scotland, England and Denmark. (She’ll also be playing in Wales next month, but more on that later…)




 
Before taking a look at the tour, let’s take a look at her tourmates. Formed on the Berlin avant-garde scene, Raiments are fronted by sing-murmurer/left-field guitarist Mano Camatsos, and they sound like a soft-stepping muttering blend of Lou Reed and Momus fronting a band that mixes lurking dark-jazz styling (hardwood clarinet burr and groove-pattering trashdrums) with the DIY rattle of Pram and the dark throb of Morphine. Mano’s wildcard guitar is a clinking noisemaker and pulse generator taking note of hip hop, of avant-garde classical extended techniques and of mysterious instruments and methods gleaned from ethnological recordings. His songwriting voice is a oddball surreal instinct leading inexorably towards songs about ants or baffling seductions.



 
Tracing their upcoming footsteps on the tour is a joy, like following a plough which turns up small treasures as it reveals what’s in the earth. It’s partly the succession of intriguing off-the-beaten-path venues – squatty art-pubs, recovered eighteenth-century coal basins, pocket cinemas and art centres, diehard folk rooms and out-of-the-way sipperys – but also the revealing of similarly off-the-wall musical talents and enthusiasts they join up with en route.

In Edinburgh, Bell and Raiments are playing with Claquer – previously three-piece improvisers Claque until they spun off their American drummer an unspecified time ago. Now it’s just the Edinburgh contingent: free/experimental guitarist Jer Reid and viola player/speaker Lisa Fannen. They deal in lo-fi clangs, loopings and scrapes and spoken word: momentary moment-music.


 
In Newcastle, the main support comes from the soft melody murmurs and drowsy, cushioned keens of ambient/improv folk duo Halcyon Jane, a Tyneside/Humberside teamup. Upfront with the voice, guitar and devices is Newcastle performance art polymath Jayne Dent, better known via her own electronic/noisy folk project Me Lost Me, in which she buffers and buffets her singing with concertinas and samplers: when she played Hull back in December, support came from local ambient electronic beatsman Halcyon Neumann, who’s worked with The Body Farmers and with Sarah Shiels and who carries out sonic explorations of “the technological vs. the archaic/the spiritual vs. the scientific/the supernatural vs. the psychological.” Together they tease out a semi-improvised border music, part weird electro-folk and part post-shoegaze wisp.

Also playing is Michael Clark, providing slurred, wise, trepidatious and crepuscular folk music with fogrolls of noise behind an acoustic guitar. Despite being a Londoner, he sounds more like a moor-dweller; or like someone who lives in the kind of port city London used to be, one in which strange tales and intimation billow up the streets with the dock mist: this time out, his strange tales are backed up by a full band.

 
I’ve encountered The Nature Centre before. Headlining the Club Integral-hosted Birmingham show above Bell Lung and Raiments, they’re an affable rural/suburban pop quartet like a four-person one-man band, sprouting banjos and clarinets and found percussion alongside their drum kit and guitars. Drawn to playing at weirder gigs, they’ve shared bills with people like Bob Drake and have their own batchful of three-minute pop songs avidly reflecting the off-kilter visions of previous English songwriter eccentrics (the Syd Barretts, Robyn Hitchcocks and Tim Smiths). Handling the in-between-bands slot is someone new to me but not new to Brum’s vinyl-istas: Moseley Folk Festival’s house DJ and Moseley Record Fair co-organiser DJ Rome, promising his own selection of crate-dug oddities and inspirations.


 
In Bristol, the DJ backup comes from “bleary-eyed staggerer” Siegfried Translator of the Grey Area radio show (another haven for intriguingly weird music from all over the globe), but the gig predominantly features the Tara Clerkin Trio: the DIY musical brainchild of a ceramicist who also seems to have a yen for gamelan/minimalist-sounding pattern tinkling sprinkled with voiceloops, friendly saxophonic intrusions and other pitch-ins from whichever musical friends she can rope in for the occasion. (At other times, she creates her own slumberous take on experimental countrified pop.)

 
The Oxford show (promoted by Divine Schism) is primarily a launch event for the second EP by Zahra Haji Fath Ali Tehrani, a.k.a. Despicable Zee – a live-looper, improviser and conscious patterner of fifteen years standing, mixed Anglo/Irish/Iranian heritage, and a history of drumming in Oxford bands since her teens. Now the drums (plus loopstations and recordings) are used to create live solo tracks in which Zee employs a lo-fi, lo-technique approach to overlapping rhythm garlands and triggered conversations. As an artist (as well as an educator and mother), Zee’s increasingly conscious of the female lines she carries within her: the patched-in samples which wobble her current project along feature the voices of her mother and grandmother, mingling with Zee’s own sing-speak-raps as if they’ve dropped by for some kind of experimental music cross-cultural kaffee klatsch.


 
The London show (at Paper Dress Vintage) is an evening of music and spoken word put together by promoters Spilt Milk in order to raise money and awareness for North London Action for the Homeless. Shapeshifter experimental pop poet Alabaster dePlume comperes: also in the corner is Jenny Moore’s Mystic Business, who showed up in ‘Misfit City’ a little over a year ago.

Jenny’s another artist whose field extends from the visual and situational into action and music: the Mystic Business involves pulling together friends and strangers into a collective performance event that’s part communal clapalong choir, part percussion workshop and good-natured culture-jamming protest (with food). Guileless and charming, but nonetheless political and détournementational, it’s an attempt to get collective conscience back into the body, containing and encouraging a cheerful but insistent protest.



 
The Conventry and Brighton gigs appear to feature just Bell Lungs and Raiments on their own, but news just coming in re. the Liverpool date (at dockside art-pub Drop the Dumbulls) says that support there comes from Merseyside “synthwhisperer” and outsider synthpopper Claire Welles. She’s been rolling out her contrary songs for over a decade now, singing increasingly unsettling lyrics in a deep deadpan tone with a sarcastic medicated edge, while the backings deliquesce from elegant ageless Europop into something a little misshapen. It all becomes something like those conversations during which you wake up a third of the way in, not quite sure how you got into them, not quite believing that you’re stuck in there and will just have to ride it out.



 
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Following the Raiments tour, Bell heads off separately for other shows. A mid-March showing at Manchester’s Peer Hat is a solo gig, but there’s also an Argyll event (in the enchanting recording-studio-as-art-nook surroundings of St Marys Space) at which she’s supporting baroque poptronic project Gaze Is Ghost: itinerant Northern Irish singer/songwriter/post-classical composer Laura McGarrigle, noted for “spectral vocals and impressionist piano playing” as well as drifts into harmonium and ambient atmospherics. In recent years Laura’s let Zed Penguin drummer/artist Casey Miller into the project and (following a number of pre-Casey singles), Gaze Is Ghost are finally readying a debut album as a duo.

 
A return to Glasgow on 28th March sees Bell performing on a talk’n’play bill with musicologist and audio culturer David Toop and Berlin sonicist Rashad Becker (who, having polished over a thousand records by other people spanning noise to techno, has begun stepping out into music creation of his own with the resonant faux-ethnological synthwork of ‘Traditional Music of Notional Species, Vol. I’).

On the 30th she’s back in Edinburgh to support another experimental folker, looper and performance artist: David Thomas Broughton, whose brilliantly wayward path has included looping his own heckles, blurring the line between song performance and experimental theatre. Along the way he’s released eight albums of accessible, tremulous, oddly haunting alt.folk delivered in an arresting genderless vocal tone a little reminiscent of Anthony/Anohni, and won the respect and collaborative contributions of (among others) Beth Orton, Sam Amidon, and Aidan Moffat. David will be in the early stages of his own tour, which I really should cover on its own.





 
Before any of these, though, she’s crossing the North Sea to perform at an experimental folk event in København. Part of the city’s Fanø Free Folk Festival, it’s hosted by local label Dendron Records, specializers in “small runs of abstract electronics, ghostly folk songs and surprisingly hummable tunes.” The concert will also feature two København-based British emigres Hugh Tweedie and Tanja Vesterbye Jessen. Hugh’s been operating for years under various names including The Weave And The Weft and Taiga Taiga, creating shadowy understated mostly-acoustic songs with a literary bent, and he regularly helps out with David Folkmann Drost’s homemade folk project Moongazing Hare. Previously known as a radical electric guitarist in Vinyl Dog Joy, Amstrong and Distortion Girls, Tanja recently struck out on her own with a solo debut, ‘Feeling Love’ in which she embraces and deconstructs pop songs, writing them acoustically before bringing assorted damaged amplification and effects-pedal interference to bear on them, resulting in songscapes covering a field from heavy-lidded noise-folk to cataclysmic “drone-metal disco”.




 
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Dates:

Bell Lungs & Raiments tour:

  • Henry’s Cellar Bar, 16A Morrison Street, Edinburgh EH3 8BJ – Wednesday 20th February 2019, 7.00pm (with Claquer) – information here
  • Cobalt Studios, 10-16 Boyd Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE2 1AP, England – Thursday 21st February 2019, 7.00pm(with Michael Clark + Halcyon Jane) – information here
  • The Edge, 79-81 Cheapside, Digbeth, Birmingham, B12 0QH, England – Friday 22nd February 2019, 8.00pm (with The Nature Centre + DJ Rome) – information here and here
  • Cube Cinema, Dove Street South (off top-left of King Square), Kingsdown, Bristol, BS2 8JD, England – Sunday 24th February 2019, 8.00pm(with Tara Clerkin Trio + The Grey Area DJs) – information here and here
  • Fusion Arts, 44b Princes Street, Cowley Road, Oxford, OX4 1DD, England – Monday 25th February 2019, 7.30pm(with Despicable Zee) – information here
  • Paper Dress Vintage Bar & Boutique, 352a Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HR, England – Tuesday 26th February 2019. 7.30pm (with Jenny Moore’s Mystic Business + Alabaster dePlume) – information here and here
  • The Rose Hill Tavern, 70-71 Rose Hill Terrace, Brighton, West Sussex, BN1 4JL, England – Thursday 28th February 2019, 7.00pm – information here
  • The Tin @ The Coal Vaults, Unit 1-4 Coventry Canal Basin, St. Nicholas Street, Coventry, CV1 4LY, England – Friday 1st March 2019, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Drop the Dumbulls @ The Bull, 2 Dublin Street, Liverpool, L3 7DT, England – Saturday 2nd March 2019, 7.00pm (with Claire Welles) – information here

Bell Lungs standalone dates with various others (tbc):

  • Fanø Free Folk Festival @ Alice, Norre Alle 7, DK-2200 København N, Norway – Monday 4th March 2019, 7.00pm(with Hugh Tweedie + Tanja Vesterbye Jessen) – information here
  • St Marys Space, Fasnacloich, Argyll, Scotland, PA38 4BJ – Saturday 9th March 2019, 7.00pm(supporting Gaze Is Ghost) – information here
  • The Peer Hat, 14-16 Faraday Street, Manchester M1 1BE – Thursday 14th March 2019, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Stereo/The Old Hairdressers, 20-28 Renfield Lane, Glasgow, G2 5AR, Scotland – Thursday 28th March 2019, 7.00pm (with David Toop + Rashad Becker) – information here and here
  • The Waverley, 3-5 St. Mary’s Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1TA, Scotland – Saturday 30th March 2019, 9.00pm (supporting David Thomas Broughton) – information here

February 2019 – upcoming London eclectic/multicultural gigs at Poplar Union – Grand Union Orchestra (22nd February); Mishti Dance (23rd February) with Conspirators of Pleasure, The Tuts, Kapil Seshasayee and Soundar Ananda

15 Feb

I don’t go down to Poplar that often, but despite its more confusing aspects – the hurtling convergence of the eastern motorway routes out of London; that strange dislocated/disassociated/dispossessed neighbour’s relationship which it has with the glittering towers of Docklands to the south – the place has always felt welcoming; from the wry hardiness of its shopkeepers to the gentle courtesy of the djellaba-clad pair of Muslim brothers (one twentysomething lad, one eight-year-old kid) who spotted me wandering (a lost, bald, bearded middle-aged white bloke) all nonplussed by the Limehouse Cut, and were kind enough to redirect me to Poplar Union.

PU still feels like a beacon for the area’s future – enthusiastically aspirational in its bright, clean, modern bookishness but also happily embedded in the area’s colourful swirl of cultures; decidedly unshabby but also entirely inclusive. Here are another couple of gigs coming up there this coming week.

* * * * * * * *

Grand Union Orchestra, 22nd February 2019

Sporting a thirty-plus roster of musicians from all across the world, Grand Union Orchestra have spent two decades playing and personifying an ethic of joyous multicultural cooperation onstage. With a tradition of creative diasporan work, and with an additional set of roots in left-wing community theatre, they’re a living rebuttal to British insularity. Usually there’s about eighteen of them on stage, drawn from a flexible roster of around thirty top-flight musicians from a variety of cultures and generations. You’ll see Bangladeshi, Chinese, English, Turkish, Caribbean, Roma, Bulgarian, Mozambiquian people and more, from striplings to grandmothers, all playing together, long accustomed to assembling rolling caravans of sound into which assorted musics – Carnatic and Bangladeshi classical, salsa, jazz – can be folded.



 
You can pick out the various components (even a quick dip will turn up players like Jazz Warriors trumpet veteran Claude Deppa, Carnatic violin virtuoso Claude Deppa, Roma accordionist Ionel Mandache, guzheng star Zhu Xiao Meng and a poly-hued battery of singers with backgrounds including fado, jazz, opera and Bengali classical) but you’re better off just enjoying the sweeping palette. Just looking at their gig flyers reminds me of the happy, souped-up neighbourly multiculture festivals in and around my primary school. It makes me want to bare my teeth against the chilly white monocultural wind that’s blowing from the future, from Brexit and from the surly side of Englishness; or – if I can’t do anything else – to at least turn up my collar, turn my angry back against the freeze and head for the lights, the warmth and the rhythms.

GUO’s current, workshop-driven project – ‘Bengal, Bhangra and the Blues’ – is helmed by tabla ace Yousuf Ali Khan: it leans back towards the music of the Asian sub-continent with classical ragas, Bengali songs and the aforementioned bhangra at the heart of it. Various young participants, having already enjoyed the previous week’s free instrumental youth workshops incorporated into the project programme, will be joining the main band for the concert.

* * * * * * * *

Mishti Dance featuring Conspirators of Pleasure + The Tuts + Kapil Seshasayee + Soundar Ananda, 23rd February 2019

I know Grand Union Orchestra, but I’m less familiar with PU’s Mishti Dance evenings and their Asian club/dance initiative. The idea strikes a fond chord of memories stemming from the Talvin Singh Anokha nights I’d occasionally attend in the mid-‘90s, in which all of the sounds I’d been vaguely aware of during an upbringing in multicultural Haringey suddenly seemed to grow up and stream together. Anokha, though, had its road laid down for it by the bhangra grooves and post-rave dance culture of the times, and while you could skulk up to the chillout room to listen to Shakti if you wanted to, it was predominantly about immersing yourself in sub-bass, remix chops and tabla frenzy.

Mishi, however, looks like a much looser bag: admittedly hung on the same British Asian peg but more tenuously, with room for just about anything and anyone with a Asian connection and in particular those who are following their own path out of the immediate cultural confines and bringing their innate cultural qualities to question, alter and enrich other spaces. The closest Anokha-type dance exemplar in this month’s gig looks as if it’s DJ Soundar Ananda of Indigenous Resistance, a French-Asian “conscious beats” deliverer, promoter and compilation curator working with “cutting-edge, futuristic, nu-skool, Eastern electronic music influenced by dub, dubstep, d’n’b, breakbeat, jungle, reggae.”

 
The Tuts, on the other hand, are a long way from Anohka beat culture, although I think Talvin and co would have appreciated their ethic. A fiesty, witty, self-propelled female throw-forward from the all-too-brief days of ’70s post-punk inclusivity, they’re a young DIY pop-punk trio of “proud Caribbean, English and Indian/Pakistani origin” and an immediate, salty working-class attitude of immediate self-assertion and street wit. Full of chop-and-change musical sharpness and girl-group zest (they’ve happily covered Wannabe, though there’s as much Fuzzbox or Slits to their vigour as there is Spice Girlhood), they’ll be inspiring girl moshers and wallflowers alike from Wolverhampton to Leicester, with little for old white gits like me to do but gently get out of the way, smiling as we do so. Bluntly inspirational.



 
The remaining two acts take us into delightfully eclectic and weird experimental pop and noise terrain. Bringing the majority of the weird noises are headliners Conspirators Of Pleasure: multi-media artists Poulomi Desai (who’s been in here before a few times over the year, toting her polydisciplinary stage shows and their festoonings of gizmos and collated contradictory content) and onetime Pop Group/Pigbag post-punk/funk/dub bassist Simon Underwood (once compared by Dennis Bovell to a white Robbie Shakespeare). Their adventures together have included helping to set Joyce’s ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ to music, and touring with Stewart Lee and other restless upsetters in the ‘Usurp Chance Tour’. Using repurposed tools of the cultural trade (Poulumi’s context-yanked sitar played with everything from an axe to a massage vibrator, Simon’s prepared bass guitar) plus assorted noisemakers, drone-sources, toys, stylophones and radios and a battery of makeshift audio-visual, they’ll spend their time onstage forking over textures and flotsam, touching on the industrial, on dance culture, on noisy improvised chaos and on the voices and ideas which emerge from this conflation.


 
Glaswegian-Asian singer-songwriter Kapil Seshasayee has parked himself on a junction where a variety of different ideas and approaches are coerced into meeting. He takes his beats from hardcore machine punk and Arca-ian experimental electropop; his guitar choices from a superimposition of Carnatic traditions and skinny-wire Hendrixian note-bending, crashes and hammer-on blues; his song structures from the kind of improvisational bardic rock which itself is drawing from griots or the ecstatic traditions which bubble away in various cultures despite having been vainly tarmac-ed over by Western rationalism.

His voice… well, I’m not entirely sure where that comes from. A beautiful Western/Indian rock clarion with hints of boy angel, Quwalli pronouncer and open-ended Beefheartian abstractioneer, it barrels up out of a position of assured strength only to lyrically splatter itself across parts of the landscape you’d not even noticed before. I could wave in Tim Buckley, Thom Yorke, Nick Harper and Van Morrison as whiter comparisons; I could point to some of the fiery ecstastic pitches and timbres of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, or toward youthful bluesmen with an axe to sharpen; but I still wouldn’t get it across to you or do it the right kind of justice.

Bald and impressively bearded (beating me on both counts, in fact), Kalil additionally decorates his wrenched-cable music with electronic fizz and spookings plus the eldritch acoustic wails he can scratch out of a waterphone. As for his songs, whether they’re upended experimental blues or club-leaning avant-pop abstractions (and often they’re both), they sound like distracted revelations in train marshalling yards, Kapil as a spasming, pointing Blakean figure continually spotting and sweeping the hidden numinous into his narratives and fracturing them into cracked landscapes. Somewhere inside Kalil there’s a bloke who wants to sing straightforward young-man songs about love gone wrong. Fortunately, his own brain continually waylays him in between impulse and expression.



 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Grand Union Orchestra: Bengal, Bhangra and the Blues
Poplar Union, 2 Cotall Street, Poplar, London, E14 6TL, England
Friday 22nd February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Mishti Dance presents:
Conspirators of Pleasure + The Tuts + Kapil Seshasayee + Soundar Ananda
Poplar Union, 2 Cotall Street, Poplar, London, E14 6TL, England
Saturday 23rd February 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here
 

February 2019 – upcoming gigs in London and Sunderland (folk, country, etc.) – Mally Harpaz and Valeria Pozzo in London (12th); a resurgent Bill Jones in London and Sunderland (16th & 20th February); Sarah Jane Scouten in London (18th February)

4 Feb

Mally Harpaz + Valeria Pozzo, 12th February 2019

On Tuesday next week, there’s yet another chance to see sometime Anna Calvi drummer/harmoniumist Mally Harpaz present her solo composer side, via live performances of her soundtracks for Clara Aparicio Yoldi’s video-art extrapolations from classic paintings. Debuted a little over a year ago (and revisited a couple of times since then, they’re post-classical piano-centric mood pieces. Various guests will be joining Mally as part of her ensemble – in the past, these have included Mark Neary, Hazel Iris, Ciara Clifford, Jessica Lauren, Eran Karniel and, indeed, Anna Calvi (a close friend rather than an employer, and one who repays loyalty).

 
As for the future, Mally is still incubating her intended debut album, with two brooding instrumentals having broken cover on Soundcloud two years ago – glowering Gothic impressionism for piano, drum and ghost guitar, dabbed with synth strings and wordless soprano wails. You can hear the imprint of mediaeval-toned cinema epics, Dead Can Dance, some of the foggier Braonáin-isms… but someone really needs to let this woman loose on a New Weird Britain film about a haunted pantry somewhere in the New Forest. Something nasty, with a scary cutlery drawer.


 
As she usually does, Mally is presenting this as part of one of her “off-the-beaten-track” Blind Dog Studio evenings, which also showcase other performers. In the past these events have often favoured under-the-radar female singer-songwriters with impressive multi-instrumental abilities. This month’s show is no exception, featuring Valeria Pozzo.

Originally from Italy, Valeria currently floats in that strangely nationless zone of acoustic jazz pop, where it’d be difficult to tell where she was from unless you asked. She’s the possessor of handy guitar and violin skills as well as being the owner of a supple voice; and from what I’ve heard of her so far she’s hovering on a cusp where she could either carve out a comfortable career supplying smooth, edgeless jazz-folk entertainment at upscale pizza restaurants or take a couple of small, delicate gambles and persistently deliver songs which could turn heads and stop jaws champing.

I much prefer it when she does the latter: easing subtly strange chordings and tunings into her work, adding an extra dimension. Not necessarily unsettling, let alone perverse, but providing a deepening, an extra quality of storytelling undercurrent. What would be, if she dealt in written stories, the story beyond the words: the bit that crept up on you.


 
Valeria’s also making another appearance later in the month, this time at Rami Radi’s Laid Bare At the Ritzy acoustic night in Brixton; where she’ll be appearing with assorted other south London singer-songwriters including post-Damien Rice caroller Archie Langley, Berlin-born acoustic soulster Adwoa Hackman and her white-soul-boy-next-door counterpart Josh Collins. As a bill it’s got its moments, but it’s a little too generic for me to say much here, to be honest; although George Pelham’s buttery lite-soul voice and apparently effortless shuffling of McCartney, Prince and Elton John songwriting sounds pretty good. I’m also going to go back sometime and have a closer listen to the coastal autoharp folk of Olive Haigh – the deliverer of a cute, winsome sound with a garnish of eerie weirdness which becomes more apparent the more you listen (slightly magical/slightly sinister fairytale undertones, and a subtle use of sound embellishments from fiddle slides to pebble rattles).

* * * * * * * *

Bill Jones, 16th February 2019

There was a time in the early 200s when Bill Jones looked set to be a British folk star with the profile of someone like Kate Rusby – upfront, nicely turned out, fairly straightforward and with her folk scholarship gently on display. (These days it seems to matter less whether you gained it at lockins or at university, though plenty seem to study at both of these schools. Bill was one of those who did both.)

My own initial memories of Bill are wilder, woollier and from a bit further back: from when she was singing loud, pure backing vocals from behind an accordion as an anchoring part of The Wise Wound, who have generally been snootily dismissed as “an indie band” in accounts of Bill’s prehistory but whose absorbing, sometimes frustrating work was more like a remarkable psychedelic quilt being disgorged through a chamber folk-funnel. Back then (still going through formative years) she was something of a band secret weapon: a dark horse who stood apart from the friendly-frictional mental wrestling and gag-cracking that made up much of the Wise Wound’s offstage behaviour, while secretly fostering a great deal of the charm that served her well when she eventually found her own voice and went solo.

It was interesting seeing Bill afterwards, since she was still something of a dark horse: managing to pull off (possibly unwittingly) the trick of being entirely open while remaining entirely enigmatic. Even when revealing something personal in song (such as her family’s Anglo-Indian Darjeeling heritage, as laid out a capella in the title track of 2001’s ‘Panchpuran’) she sometimes seemed less of a conversationalist in what she sang than a conduit, like the flute she also plays. Her sleekly-groomed picture-book folk sometimes made use of the varnished production of pop, but without any concessions or vulgarities; and there was certainly always a sense that while Bill was friendly and loved her craft, she was also keeping a careful reign on the interplay of life and music.

Bill Jones, 20th February 2019At any rate, after three increasingly well-received albums (plus a live record, an odds-and-sods collection and a trinational collaborative project and tour with Anne Hills and Aoife Clancy), Bill turned away from the road and the spotlight; taking the option of stepping back, while still in her twenties, in favour of home-life in Sunderland, teaching and raising a family. She hasn’t been completely absent from the stage since. Folk-music teaching has less differentiation between instruction and performance; plus there were a couple of 2016 support slots in Tokyo for Flook and a number of low-key charity gigs for Antenatal Results & Choices (a cause close to Bill’s heart).

Now, however, she’s mounting a more substantial comeback, with a new album – ‘Wonderful Fairytale’ – finally arriving this coming May and various folk festival appearances scheduled for England and the United States later in the year. The first sightings are a new song, My Elfin Knight, and a pair of February dates accompanied by violinist/viola player and album buddy Jean-Pierre Garde. Between them, incidentally, the gigs indicate the affable but borderline incompatible polarities of British folk music. The London show in the churchy environs of The Gresham Centre can’t help but come with a bit of lofty gloss (canonicity, scholarliness, high-culture), while the Sunderland hometown gig is much more down-to-earth (a Whitburn Village Heritage Society do at a cricket club which also features floor spots from local singers).

I don’t know whether Bill makes much of these differentiations, or whether the contrast makes her laugh. As far as I can see, she’s just getting on with the music. Here’s the video for My Elfin Knight, which shows that she’s lost nothing in the intervening time: musically, still as sleek as a seal and cool as an early autumn evening. If anything’s changed, it’s the emotional freighting: the passing years seem to have laid an extra presence on her, with the sense of unspoken things lurking closer behind the song.


 
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Among the Nest Collective events popping up for early 2019 is a show by Canadian country folker Sarah Jane Scouten – another artist with firm groundings in tradition plus the willpower to bring it to a fresh new audience. As with the spill of characters around the Laid Bare evening, I can’t say much for Sarah in terms of originality, or in terms of her bringing much that’s new to the table, but with her neither of these things need to matter.

Sarah Jane Souten, 18th February 2019

What does matter is how she takes her chosen song-form back into her corner (a genre that’s still too young to be ossified but is still too easy to render cheesy) and how she refreshes it. Rather than a young revolutionary, Sarah’s a restorer and a reconfigurer: someone who can already turn out classic-sounding songs to fit the canon, and who can personify its ongoing traditions in a way that looks forced and creaky on a rock performer but sits surprisingly well on a country figure. Maybe it’s the storytelling side of things – as with traditional folk, stories get picked up, dusted off and recast in country, rolling on like a wheel. At any rate, Sarah’s consistently impressive, whether she’s turning out honky-tonk or delivering typically countryesque tales of rural life, bereavement and memory with songs such as the recent single Show Pony. She might not be showing you where country is going, but she’ll certainly show you where it will always be coming from.

 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Blind Dog Studio presents:
Mally Harpaz + Valeria Pozzo + guests
Hundred Years Gallery, 13 Pearson Street, Hoxton, London, E2 8JD, England
Tuesday 12th February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here

The Nest Collective presents:
Sarah Jane Scouten
The Slaughtered Lamb, 34-35 Great Sutton Street, Clerkenwell, London, EC1V 0DX, England
Monday 18th February 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

Bill Jones:

  • Gresham Centre, St Anne And St Agnes Church, Gresham Street, Barbican, London, EC2V 7BX, England – Saturday 16th February 2019, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Whitburn Cricket Club, The Village Ground, Sunderland, South Tyneside, SR6 7BZ, England – Wednesday 20th February 2019 – information here and here

Laid Bare At the Ritzy presents:
George Pelham + Adwoa Hackman + Olive Haigh + Josh Collins + Valeria Pozzo Trio + Archie Langley
Upstairs at The Ritzy, Brixton Oval, Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, London, SW2 1JG, England
Wednesday 27th February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here
 

January 2019 – upcoming English rock gigs – Francis Dunnery’s ‘Big Lad In The Windmill’ mini-tour (18th to 20th January)

12 Jan

Next week, gloriously wayward singer-songwriter Francis Dunnery revisits his past with It Bites – in solo format – as he takes music from their 1986 debut album ‘The Big Lad In The Windmill’ out on an English micro-tour.

Francis Dunnery, 11th and 18th to 20th January 2019

When pompous would-be music tastemakers like myself roll out their list of great pop and rock albums of the 1980s, ‘The Big Lad In The Windmill’ generally isn’t on there. That’s unsurprising. As a decade, the ‘80s sprawled into outspoken ideological polarisation, during which it sometimes seemed as if everyone in popular music was a purist poseur of some kind or other; whether they were swanning about on yachts sporting terrifying ozone-threatening hairstyles, acting out grimly righteous/reductionist salt-of-the-earth positionings, haute-couture megaphoning about The Future or (rather more constructively) hurtling around America in vans trying to build an alternative economy. Perhaps that’s over-simplifying, but it’s certainly true that it was an age of vivid stances, and that some terrible and reductive snobberies developed as a side-effect of said stances and manifestos. In such a time and in such a milieu, ‘The Big Lad’ was the kind of album that wasn’t supposed to happen… and many people seemed (and still seem) to think it shouldn’t have been allowed to happen.

It Bites: 'The Big Lad In The Windmill'

It Bites: ‘The Big Lad In The Windmill’

Admittedly on spec it was also a little preposterous. A shotgun marriage of glutinous, glittery ‘80s pop with hard rock snorts and cartwheeling prog stunts, it was recorded by four self-confessed working-class hicks from England’s gorgeous, isolated Lake District, who also happened to be unfashionably virtuosic as musicians. Possessing a keen ear for pastiche and adaptation, they’d had a prehistory back home as a badly-behaved covers band. Plying the tough Cumbrian circuit of nightclubs and working men’s clubs, they’d mastered reams of contemporary pop hits (Level 42, Police, Haircut 100 and so on) while simultanously nursing a profound love for the 70’s complexity and flourishes of Genesis and Yes, UK and Weather Report. All of which showed by the time they came to write their own stuff. By the mid-‘80s (abetted by resident keyboard popinjay and arrangements genius John Beck), Dunnery was putting together original songs which played on both sets of preoccupations.

Some smartarse once tagged It Bites as “bubblegum prog”, which isn’t too bad a label. It encapsulates the band’s mastery of the kind of throwaway immediate pop tunes which prove to have a tenacious, sticky life of their own: it also takes into account their taste for florid illustrative musical passages. In addition, their playing had a layer of fantasy-funk and soul itch (due to admixtures of Steve Arrington and Prince, plus Dick Nolan’s stalking, slippery bass grooves), and some hard rock crunch (staunch, sturdy drummer Bob Dalton was a Led Zeppelin guy at heart). Collectively, It Bites aspired to the well-drilled, muscular “follow-this” ethic of a black showband; which seemed to be judged as less of a virtue when coming from a white British rock band of the times, where restrictive amateurism or beefy stiffness was the order of the day.

Bear in mind that this was years before white-boy eclecticism inveigled its way back into mainstream rock and pop. Ween were still only releasing home-made cassettes; Jellyfish wouldn’t show up for another three years, and while Frank Zappa stubbornly flew the flag for stylistic fluidity, he was an elder statesman turned cult artiste in a niche of his own. Even Queen had calmed down a bit. Had they slipped into a more parodic approach lyrical approach, It Bites might have suddenly woken up to find that their nearest British equivalents were The Barron Knights. Fortunately, they took themselves a little more seriously: there was silliness in their playful approach, but it was matched by an earnest bravado which won them affection from audiences even as it drew critical disdain.


 
Once signed by Virgin and given a shot at making a record, It Bites treated it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to throw everything they had into the effort and stir it up like crazy. Throughout ‘The Big Lad’ they’re coltish and restless, latching onto impeccable mainstream pop-rock stylings only to suddenly career off into wildly played, cunningly constructed breaks. Turn Me Loose and I Got You Eating Out Of My Hand mercilessly run straightforward pop songs through a mill of transformational time and mood changes. Almost anything goes – heavy metal, jazz-fusion arrhythmia, Al di Meola flamenco, even the drum machine and Bontempi drone of a narcotized lounge act – although the band backtrack and flawlessly reconstruct the songs at the end.

Producer Alan Shacklock entered into the spirit of things with a vengeance. He kept a “riot track” free in the mix to capture the band’s raucous in-studio jabbering; he delivered a gleefully glittering plastic sound which revelled in every Japanese-digital synth chime, every start/stop noise-gate interruption and every over-exaggerated bit of sound-panning. He also accidentally sped up the master tape, resulting in the band sounding (according to Francis) “like Pinky and Perky.” The result was – and is – a record which feels like a sudden soda pop binge after months away from the stuff.

‘The Big Lad’ is generally remembered for a surprise Top Ten single. Cantering toytown hit Calling All The Heroes married the band’s musical deftness to old Republic serials, rocking cradles and boyhood cowboy games, fuelled by an earworm chorus and some sneaky false endings. (Presumably the Wild West schtick struck a chord with Shacklock – his own early ‘70s prog band Babe Ruth had recorded The Mexican, an Alamo-themed story with which Calling All The Heroes shares a number of passing musical similarities). For many people, this song is where It Bites have been permanently stuck: pegged to a couple of fanfaring pop hooks remembered by almost every Briton who lived through mid-‘80s chart pop. In the video a bleached’n’styled, cutesied-up Dunnery and co. bob nervously, like a loopier Go West, presaging the marketing problems which would plague them for the rest of their existence. Live, they’d pull out the full prog trickbag.


 
It’s a shame that the album’s glossy, hyperactive surfaces and loop-the-loop stunting make it easy to ignore the substance beneath. Fair enough: something like Wanna Shout mostly exists in order to run demented macho-guitar heroics over stuttering go-go synths, and All In Red does little more than throb like a fourteen-year-old boy’s heat dream of Zeppelin colliding with Level 42. This isn’t the kind of record you put on to remember angry alienation in pre-punk-era Manchester, or to recapture political struggles, or even to remember belonging to anything much (unless it was being part of the crowd which understood the band’s straightforward musical verve and the down-to-earth Cumbrian personalities which bedrocked it).

Yet elsewhere on ‘The Big Lad’, genuine stories about real people emerge from beneath Beck’s thunderous keyboard chimes and Dunnery’s barrel-roll guitar playing. The band’s follow-up single Whole New World is mostly forgotten. It’s actually a fine, agonised pop song, whose horn-assisted contortions marry dashes of dumped-bloke Motown and Memphis under the Christmas-tree synths. On first impressions, Cold Tired And Hungry might be a screamingly uncool rock-snortin’ melodrama, but on a second look its histrionics run parallel to the naked, hurt-boy stances Prince was trying on at the time (although it sounds more like Steve Marriott locked into a sobbing death spiral with Brian May).

Best, though, are a couple of tracks which embrace genuine personal memories rather than generic pop tropes. Under the bravado, Screaming On The Beaches is a flipside take on Calling All The Heroes’ daydream battles. Based on Dunnery’s teasing-out of traumatic wartime memories from his dad (who’d served as a soldier in the Burma Campaign), it’s tech-laden and roaring, screwing its disorientating picture of ordinary men coming apart under fire into a party mixture of twisted pop-metal riffing, jazz-funk cat pounces and Beck’s wailing keytar. Over the next few years, the band would polish it up into a stompingly danceable live highlight, demonstrating that they had almost as much in common with Trouble Funk as they did with Genesis. Conversely, You’ll Never Go To Heaven is one of the 1980s’ great lost lighters-aloft anthems. A heart-wringing Catholic-guilt ballad (capped with Philip Glass pulse-synths and angel choirs), it features a desperate, spiralling outro solo from Dunnery that sounds like Allan Holdsworth giving vent to a primal scream.



 
* * * * * * * *

Francis Dunnery’s come a long way from the nervous, bullish twenty-three-year-old he was when he recorded ‘The Big Lad’. Four years and two albums after its release, his restless nature (plus a much-confessed dip into a serious drink problem) split him away from his more stolid bandmates. While It Bites have gone on to have a belated second life without him, he’s spent the intervening time following a solo career demonstrating that he’s a rough diamond who decided that he prefers to stay a little rough.

At the time, the necessary polish and consistency required to play the pop game wasn’t right for him. It still isn’t, but he’s managed to turn it to his advantage. Now entirely independent, he follows his own particular muse, popping out records as and when it suits him, and building a relationship with his listeners which has the same mixture of generosity, conversationality and occasional cantankerousness as a genuine friendship. At fifty-six, Francis resembles that old lag with delightful hidden depths whom you might meet during stints on a building site: the one who retains his working-class saltiness, cracks wicked jokes and is still handy in a fist-fight, but likes to sit you down during lunchbreaks and talk about Jung, history and esoterica.

His records have run a similar lane-swapping gamut – the kind of tasteful fingerpicked adult pop which gives the genre a good name; acoustic meditations on life and wounds and healing; fanbase-bewildering dips into laptop R&B; reconstructive tributes to the gothic Cumbrian jazz-metal written by his late brother Barry, and so on. Psychology, astronomy, metaphysics, bite-backs and broad jokes litter his songs. Freed from the standard album-tour-album treadmill, a typical Dunnery gig is now a mixture of friendly encounter group and surreal pub talent night. As well as playing songs, he’ll be telling his audience stories, teasing them about prog cliches or dwarf porn, gleefully upending a performance with comedy and spontaneous competitions, or spicing things up with unexpected guest appearances from his capacious address book (could be a musical friend like Robert Plant, Theo Travis or Steve Hackett; could be an actual fucking pantomime horse…)

While they’ve kept much of the musicality, recent Francis reworkings of the ‘Big Lad’ songs (on his ‘Vampires‘ album) are a touch more sedate and patient – breezier, and partially shorn of their pyrotechnic plastic-synth fizz. In truth, while he’s still more than capable of wringing out the dazzling guitar flash and the singing, the years do make something of a difference: mostly because when set against later Dunnery work (with its accounts of mid-life bereavement, parenthood and the battles fought between a person’s ever-resistant roots and the idea of who they’re trying to be) ‘The Big Lad’ is a bit too callow and fizzy. It’ll always be a young man’s album – drunk on possibilities and grappling with the spirit of discovery while working out some of that immediate post-childhood angst; over-aware of its own muscles and energy; distractedly trying to jigsaw together a sense of history, background and its own place within it via song and allusion. Perhaps that’s part of the thinking behind retaining Francis’ onetime protégé Luke Machin (a former teen guitar prodigy-turned-twentysomething jazz/prog/metal ace) in a crack, hand-picked live band also including Tiger Moth Tales’ Peter Jones and Freak Kitchen drummer Björn Fryklund (plus fretless bassist Paul Brown, holding down the ever-underrated Dick Nolan role).

Regardless of this, even if ‘The Big Lad In The Windmill’ is two parts kiddie sherbet to one part brilliance – and even if you want to clobber it over the head as an example of undeniable ’80s excess – it still stands up. Looking back, it’s still recognisably Dunnery music, a handful of rough adolescent prisms through which his younger, fearful self blinks from underneath the dazzle. Catholic-rooted, disaster-prone but unstoppable; heartfelt and playful; naïve and wise; soft and noisy, driven and impulsive. The man Francis would become – the man he is now – is still waiting in those songs; waiting to be knocked into shape via further adventures, further bumps and arguments along the way. I bet that there are plenty of ’80s pop refugees who wish they’d written juvenilia like this: songs with heart, flash and legs.

Dates:

  • The Slade Rooms, 32-40 Broad Street, Wolverhampton, West Midlands, WV1 1HP, England, Friday 18th January 2019, 7. 00pm – information here, here and here
  • Manchester Academy, University Of Manchester Students’ Union, Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9PR, England, Saturday 19th January 2019, 7.00pm – information here, here and here
  • Bush Hall, 310 Uxbridge Road, Shepherds Bush, London, W12 7LJ, England, Sunday 20th January 2019, 7.00pm – information here, here and here

 

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