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June 2021 – single & track reviews – Gabriella Smith/Gabriel Cabezas’ ‘Lost Coast III’; Hot Mustard’s ‘Jerkwater Strut; Ada Moreau’s ‘My Shadow Halts’

7 Jun

Following up on last month’s twirling ‘Bard of a Wilderness’ single, Gabriella Smith and Gabriel Cabezas continue to bring voice, cello and found percussion items to bear on the theme of human responses to the wild spaces, and to the destruction wrought on Gabriella’s California home by last year’s wildfires. While building on the pattering jazz and classical extended-playing techniques which threaded through ‘Bard…’, ‘Lost Coast III’ also sidesteps the former’s barely-restrained murmur and its mingled mourning/accusatory wordings. Skipping across a triple-beat, it’s more of a fiery Latinized waltz heading out on an angry roadtrip – its rage barely constrained, its grief turned into a wild chattering momentum veering all over the tarmac.

This time, Gabriella ignores texts in favour of dance chanting and thermal-tossed multi-tracked vocalese. She plays against herself in what sounds like a wordless, impressionistic vocal ballet of fire-panicked neighbours chattering and arguing, sharing fears and concerns as they try to save themselves what they can. Mingling with this is a sense of boiling injustice, a fury at the fact that this is actually happening. Hands and bow beat on cello case and cans, while Gabriel’s rapid string melodies squeal, strum and chop against the rhythms (and the viola of Bedroom Community labelmate Nadia Sirota adds more midrange sinew).

Round about the halfway point, the piece erupts into a frantically hummed-and-sung chorale of overdubbed Gabriellas, the cello casting disaster drones across the voices. Towards the end, everything disintegrates into a tangled mass of cello frenzy, alarms and firebell rattles before soaring out into a finale which combines everything that’s gone before into a thrillingly twisted-up whole. The more times that you listen to this, the more it seems to reveal; as if it’s not just dealing with the impact of the 2020 fires but mining deeper into Californian history for a catalogue of misfortunes, oppressions, mismanagements and outright fuck-ups, giving voice to all of the indignations that came with them but which were brushed under the forest floor. Rousing stuff, in every sense.

The remaining two singles (this time around) are much more relaxed.

Mixing rare groove with early hip hop/boom bap, the debut Hot Mustard single ‘Jerkwater Strut’ is a bit of idealised, retro-fitted funky-sidewalk strolling. At the group’s core, Jack Powell and Nick Carusos create a Chic-ish dynamic of guitar and bass co-leadership, although the group’s rural South Carolina location (and Jack’s taste for softly melting wah-wah trickles and behind-the-beat pacing) locate it in a much lazier groove. Brooklyn’s Big Brass Beats horn duo (with their Antibalas and TV on the Radio connections) phatten it out, but with the outcome being more New Orleans and Memphis than it is Big Apple (though they do cite a little bit of Wu-Tang Clan as an addition to the mixture). I guess Charleston (a boat ride and a bump away from Hot Mustard’s Johns Island hangout) also gets a look in.

Wordless, thoughtful and quietly happy, ‘Jerkwater Strut’ is more urban than island. Yet, if so, it’s a window onto a different kind of city life in which the tourists are gone, the guests no longer need to be impressed, and an early evening can be spent on the stoop and the street at your own, relaxed pace.

We might be being softened up here, or we might be being let in on an open secret. I can’t really tell yet. That title (like a bit of ancient jazz-age mockery) and Jack’s Gilliam-esque animated video (full of fish, cryptids and marine mythology) are laden with clues which don’t ultimately lead anywhere. Eventually, it’s just sunshine, personal contentment, and the subliminal beat of the far-off city as a comfort, all subsumed into a relaxed neighbourhood vibe.

The third in a monthly progression of singles by Stockholm-based semi-ambient composer Ada Moreau, ‘My Shadow Halts’ leaves behind the gorgeous European fogginess of its predecessors. With that former chilly brume replaced by a more evanescent sonic misting, its descending temple-bell arpeggios, distant piano and even more distant mother-of-pearl synth-sheening lead it more into Asian temple haunts.

These days, there’s more of a risk involved in attempting this kind of thing. Even as ‘My Shadow Halts’ nods to the 1980s traveller’s-ambience of Harold Budd or Roedelius, it also risks summoning up the same kind of atmosphere as many a touristy New Age salute to Bhutan or Kyoto (narrowly skirting Chinoiserie and faux-Gamelan as it does so). Fortunately, despite sounds and intimations, Ada’s actual intentions are less to do with evoking place than in fixing a position of grace.

According to her, ‘My Shadow Halts’ is about “the subjective experience of time. When the light is just right, and everything seems to slow down to that moment, frozen in time. A sudden sense of a more elevated and peaceful reality. Your stress and aggression momentarily forgotten and left behind.”

With that in mind, listening reveals something better. By avoiding direct geographical or cultural tags, Ada allows the crass, picture-postcard aspects which can taint this kind of project – that collecting, spiritually acquisitive side of things – to gently drop away from the music. While still a little second-hand, the Asiatic touches become more like a thoughtful, mood-evoking temple print hung on the opposite wall, rather than a wholesale theft of scenery. As with Hot Mustard, I think Ada’s successfully blended her inspirations into something fresh enough to work. I’m also feeling that she’s narrowly dodged a genre bullet.

Gabriella Smith/Gabriel Cabezas: ‘Lost Coast III
Bedroom Community Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 7th June 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, Apple Music, Deezer, Spotify, Amazon Music

Gabriella Smith online:
Homepage, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Amazon Music

Gabriel Cabezas online:
Homepage, Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Instagram, Amazon Music

   

Hot Mustard: ‘Jerkwater Strut’
Color Red (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 4th June 2021

Get/stream it from:
Color Red store, Bandcamp, Apple Music, Youtube, Spotify, Amazon Music

Hot Mustard online:
Homepage, Facebook, Bandcamp, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify, Instagram, Amazon Music

 

Ada Moreau: ‘My Shadow Halts’
ART:ERY Music Group, ART:ERY20210307
Download/streaming single
Released: 4th June 2021

Get/stream it from:
Soundcloud, Apple Music, Youtube, Spotify, Tidal , Amazon Music, Qobuz

Ada Moreau online:
Homepage, Soundcloud, YouTube, Spotify, Tidal, Instagram, Amazon Music, Qobuz

May 2021 – single & track reviews – Craig Fortnam’s ‘Ark’; Gabriella Smith/Gabriel Cabezas’s ‘Bard of a Wasteland’; LEYA’s ‘ABBA/Mary’ (Christina Vantzou remix)

17 May

“If you are lonely, I’ll be lonely too. / Find yourself a wall and I’ll hang next to you. / It won’t be easier hanging there that way / but we can be a diptych for the light of day…”

Craig Fortnam has spent two decades building a distinct style, both with North Sea Radio Orchestra (leafy, nostalgia-toned English chamber music drawing ever closer to lucid, Canterbury-esque psychedelia) and with Arch Garrison (slimmed-down duo/trio songwriting with more upfront personal concerns and a ranging freedom). It’s not surprising that his first solo material (at least, the first released under his name alone) falls close in tone to both of his previous projects. It’s also still very much a family affair, with the Garrison’s James Larcombe contributing piano and a delicately shrunken raft of other NSRO members adding strings, reeds and vibraphone.

‘Ark’ (the title track of Craig’s forthcoming album) is still redolent with dark walled-garden curlicues of NSRO bassoon and cello, gently astringent viola, bumble-bee monosynth and twinkling glockenspiel; all of it pumping away like steam-workings under the naive strum of guitar and Craig’s unaffected Wyatt-ish drone of vocal. Impacted by his loves and losses in the past few years – not least the death of his mentor Tim Smith – it’s downbeat, uneasy and self-effacing in a particular English fashion (a way that still throbs and flows on beneath current aggressive Brexit blustering). As a song, it’s in part a retreat and an admission of fear in ominous times. Craig’s never looked as vulnerable as he does in the video, fumbling around his rehearsal room, gazing anxiously through thick glasses, gently contorted around his guitar or haltingly reassembling broken-down instruments.

However, it’s also a frail but faithful statement of empathy and loyalty in times of threat – a recognition that trust can be rebuilt in the face of despondency. An unexpected coda with a new hint of furrowed darkness suggests that Craig has swapped some of those NSRO green leaves for a bag of tougher, tarter limes; but he’s shored up the delicate song-line, made strengthening bulwarks to share. “Two by two, I’ll paint the people in” sings Craig, “with all my deepest longing.” The clouds may be fat and dark, the cliffs may be crumbling, lights may be going out in the little houses everywhere;  but community starts with two, and then another two.

When much of California went up in relentless wildfires last year, blotting out much of the Pacific seaboard in a broil of toxic brown smoke, it left scars – economic, geographical, psychic. Singer/composer Gabriella Smith might live mostly in Marseille these days, but her roots are thoroughly Californian, emotionally entwined with the hiking trails through forests and over rocks in the wild places, now little more than ash and scorching. Composed on the hoof as she paced helplessly in the Bay Area, unable to stop the despoilment from the raging fires, ‘Bard of a Wasteland’ is the first part of a fierce lament over the wrecking of her countryside.

Rage pushes at the roots of Gabriella’s soft conversational soprano, beginning to unweave its politeness, swooping through its steel-guitar pitching and murmurs. Meanwhile, her collaborator (the genre-flexing New York cellist Gabriel Cabezas) makes his cello sound like – and do – everything else. Jazz swoops and purring, fretless Mediterranean bass lines of the Mick Karn kind; quivering tremolo ornaments to the vocal melodies; staccato thumps and strums; subtle screeches of desert birdcall; reedy drones and a rainfall pattering of fingertip percussion.

All of this is layered into flexing rhythmical and methodic song-loops, perhaps owing something to Arthur Russell’s cello-beat, to African cycles and Italian tarantellas, in which Gabriel explores the rub and the push of instrumental voices while Gabriella digs into root causes of neglect and responsibility, of strip-mining the future and impoverishing the present. “You left us with fire / and we let it burn / You lined your pockets with the breath of your children,” she sings. “All you leave is a wasteland / And we’re fighting to breathe on.” As music, it’s pretty thrilling, it’s rhythm teasing your ankles and hips into dancing. As a story, it’s unresolved and inconclusive: as it has to be, as Gabriella starts to piece together her own emotions, to find out what her new place is, and where she sits on the chain of responsibility (if not the roster of blame).

“Lost time. / Another lick of the tide, / another loop in a line…. / Far enough from the slaughter, / close enough to the dam, / I lost the dream of a daughter / to be the bard of a wasteland.” It’s a reminder that protection of a landscape comes with sustaining one’s own awareness of and connection to it. Gabriella is performing the start of a war dance on hers, to remind those who failed their duties that this kind of failure matters.

On ‘ABBA/Mary’, ambient-classical composer and onetime Dead Texan Christina Vantzou effects a two-on-one remix of eerie New York post-classical rebels LEYA, whose threnodic conflations of violin, harp, unusual intervals and porously melancholic male-alto vocalising have enthralled various freak-pits, noise-dens, art-porn movies and other liminal performance spaces ever since they formed. The originals sound like weeping shroud-cloths peeled off the sleeping bodies of castrati. They’re disturbingly beautiful, their lyrics indistinct and parched, and they’re also deliciously unmoored from time, from strictness of gender, from tone-temperament. ‘ABBA‘ is a meeting of undulant string fades and detuned harp; ‘Mary‘ is more slanted towards traditional balladry and baroque continuo.

The Vantzou blending produces quite a different hybrid. Swimming in on a tide of fluting, falling vocal samples, its shifting spine is built from gentle alteration to ‘Mary’s harp continuo. Of the vocals, Marilu Donovan’s wispy backings are moved more upfront and given their moment in the spotlight; while Adam Marciewicz’s alto is further detached from its blurred storytelling role, now echoing protracted yearning syllables in distant corridors. Throughout, gentle background interruptions prod and nudge LEYA’s original building blocks as Vantzou mixes in computer blips, finger cymbals and insect chirps and the kind of electronic glissandi you’d expected to hear in vintage psychedelic science fiction.

Building assertively on LEYA’s taste for detuning, Vantzou also brings regular and unsettling shifts in pitching, progressing the music from chord to subtly dissonant chord. You’re never entirely sure where you’re being led, other than down a staircase in which the steps are each of different, treacherous sizes. There is no particular ending or straightforward resolution: the component fragments fray and ghost out together, the last sigh of a spectral tape.

Craig Fortnam: ‘Ark’
Onomatopoeia Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download-only single
Released:
14th May 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp (free download with album pre-order), Soundcloud, Amazon Music, Spotify, Shazam

Craig Fortnam online:
Facebook, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Vimeo, Spotify, Amazon Music, Shazam

Gabriella Smith/Gabriel Cabezas: ‘Bard of a Wasteland
Bedroom Community Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
14th May 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, ‎Apple Music, Deezer, Spotify, Amazon Music

Gabriella Smith online:
Homepage, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Amazon Music

Gabriel Cabezas online:
Homepage, Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Instagram, Amazon Music

LEYA: ‘ABBA/Mary’ (Christina Vantzou remix)
NNA Tapes (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
17th May 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music

LEYA online:
Facebook, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music

Christina Vantzou online:
Homepage, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Vimeo, Deezer, Pandora, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music

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

11 Jun

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

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

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

 

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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



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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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


 
* * * * * * * *

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

BirdWorld, 18th June 2019

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


 
* * * * * * * *

All dates:

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

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

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

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

June 2019 – upcoming experimental/eclectic gigs – post-classical noise/audio-visualists Ariadne play New York and tour Europe (7th, 12th-28th various) with all manner of contributions from Carl Stone, Dasychira, Salaċ, Lazy Bones, Wolf Scarers, Julia Dyck, Anna Peaker, Ideal, Java Java Wetware, Sound Situation and Ariel Kalma

3 Jun

Long past the point when its cultural context receded into antiquity, mediaeval plainsong remains a ready grab for musicians seeking to bridge classical ideas with (in the broadest sense) pop ones. It’s easy to recall the Gregorian chants stapled to dance loops and succubus exotica pioneered by Enigma at the start of the ‘90s, in the wake of which waddled a million chillout chant albums: though to pick some more inspiring examples from past ‘Misfit City’ coverage, there’s also the post-plague requiem of Jocelyn Pook’s ‘Deluge’ and the acapella-versus-disintegrating-granular-noise of Soaring On Their Pinions.

Perhaps plainsong’s draw is in its sparseness, its directness – the way in which its emphasis on a soloist (or at least a monophonic group line) initially seems like a direct personal meditation or plea, a kind of ecclesiastic monastic blues. It could also be the way in which that sense of vulnerability mixes with a sense of ancient history (the early steps of Christianity, with the classical Hebrew and Greek temple music sources still evident, unobscured by the later agglutinating harmonies of the Renaissance). Or, to be a little more cynical, maybe it’s just that that same sparseness and built-in antique provenance has made it an easier cold sell to an audience in the age of recordings.


 
Ariadne could probably provide a better and more interesting explanation than I can. They’ve certainly got the background to enable them to understand it – electronicist/visual specialist Benjamin Forest and fellow electronicist and mezzo-soprano Christine Papania first formed an allegiance at the music school of the University of Indiana: and Christine also explores various strands of classical in her solo voiceloop project Lanx as well as singing for the Manhattan Chorale. Since around 2015, Ariadne have been investigating and altering plainsong and its relations in a succession of albums, EPs, concerts and installations.

Their 2015 album ‘Tsalal’ was based around Hebrew texts and was about plummeting into darkness, physical and psychological; the same year’s ‘Ex Tempore’ was a psalmic “dialogue between the physical and the ethereal in a languished and dense atmosphere.” Their newest work, ‘Stabat Mater’ is a “twenty-movement cycle of audio/visual ecstatic visions, heavily inspired by the visions of female Christian mystics Hildegard von Bingen and Teresa of Ávila.” The latters’ writings are rearranged and transmuted for the sung texts, with a third source coming via text from the surrealist poet Aase Berg.

Hildegard’s work, of course, has regularly blended in nicely with contemporary concerns of spirituality, pain and the female perspective: only last year her work was programmed in underground New York/London arthouse concerts by Daisy Press and Filthy Lucre, juxtaposed against Bowie, Byrne, Charlie Looker’s anguished hard-rock analyses of toxic masculinity and fascism, and the morbid queer romanticism of Claude Vivier… all of which I’m sure is just the tip of an associative iceberg. Hildegard’s ecstasies were paralleled by the rather more masochistic ones of Teresa (who also suffered a particularly grotesque fate-of-a-saint post-death postscript as her corpse was gradually disassembled and traded about by quarrelling groups of nuns, dukes, Popes and priests for open mercantile advantage).

As for Aase, still very much alive, she’s an often-bewildering overturner of expectations with a marked disdain for the “patriarchal… male sexuality” restrictions which she sees applying to standard chronology (“time passes and things have to happen and there has to be a narrative”). Her own work upends this in favour of polymathic siftings of “science, math, probability, string theory, etc.” in weird-fiction settings of post-environmental catastrophes and reconstructed worlds in which standard human perspectives are slipping away, being superseded or disintegrated by impassive, inevitable processes of change. Notably, Aase has also worked as a translator for the horror-struck, pessimistic fantasy texts of H.P. Lovecraft which, though they have an empurpled baroque verbosity which her texts avoid, often operate in similarly blasted philosophical territories.

 
While I’m sure that Ariadne too are paying plenty of attention to all of this, text is secondary to what they’re putting it through sonically. While experimenting with eerie pitchshifting, reverberation and sound chopping, their earlier work backgrounded it in favour of the traditional purity of Christine’s voice. Now they’re bolder, more assured and disruptive: while delivering perverse auto-destructive lyrics like “put my fist through my mouth and pull the roots out of the ground”, Christine’s voice retains its classical beauty but also negotiates its way through a far more confrontational path of distortions, subversions, doppelganger mockings and simple sequences of compline giving ways to gorgeous vomitations like a hopelessly poisoned Kate Bush. The electronically-generated sound, too, keeps its previous haunted/spinning chapterhouse atmosphere while rearing up like a briar thicket destroying a pathway, with distressing organic splatters, acidic treble rills, liquid-sword shatterwhooshes and nightmare distortion-belfry sounds breaking things up; plus vocal capture/turns like the obscene Pachucho squelch that chokes through Burning Sphere.

Like the last-act works of Scott Walker, though, ‘Stabat Mater’ manages to be disturbing and ear-opening without relying on shock-schlock. It hints at and flickeringly reveals dysfunction, confusion and horror without quashing or sneering at the beauty, structure or aspiration of the source materials. Benjamin’s video work, too, makes mesmerically beautiful optical scapes out of disruption, data corruption, trippy fetish hints and perspective explosions.

 
An upcoming Ariadne tour takes ‘Staber Mater’ around selected spots in America and Europe – as well as assorted arts centres, venues include an avant-garde-sympathetic bar at home in New York; an accommodating church crypt in Bristol with a patience for the heretical; a preserved grand Tudor chamber in London; and the marine guts of a permanently harbour-bound Hamburg merchant ship.

That New York hometown concert is taking place at metal/experimental hangout bar Saint Vitus, accompanied by Ideal and Dasychira (with records spun by DJ Clone). Dasychira is a platform for some brilliantly inventive experimental dance music from transplanted, intriguingly alienated South African sound artist Adrian Martens. Adrian explores and celebrates his own psychological vulnerability and resilience via industrial detonations and scatters of mbira chops, alarming darkwave pop interjections and bursts of monastic chorale. Scurrying underneath are thematic undertows of insect regeneration, building new lives from nothing. He debuted with 2017’s ‘Immolated’ EP, while last year saw the ‘Razor Leaf’ single and the ‘Haptics’ EP consolidate his work. The gig’s worth attending for his sake alone. As to whom Ideal are, I’m less sure. I’m assuming that they’re not these German New Wavers from 1982, but within the ever-refreshing and surprising Brooklyn ferment, I probably shouldn’t assume anything.



 
In Bristol, there’ll be slots featuring a pair of duos from the town’s Avon Terror Corps underground label, whose artists draw their loose inspirations and guidelines from“”medieval visions of the future, breakcore, ‘Westworld’ (the original film), industrial, the psychogeography of Castlemead, the legacy of shoegaze, the legend of Goram and Vincent, the total destruction of “deconstructed club”…” Both are best judged by their contributions to the ‘Avon Is Dead’ compilation, which amasses sundry ATC cloud uploads from 2018.

Salaċ – bewildering, serious-playful aural occultists – create long-spooling jump-cut soundscape ceremonials, the outcome of their “sculpting séances of sound with tape machines.” These are aggressive dirtbass rumbles, spasms of object-rolling across metal sheets, complaining recitations of disassociation, punctuated by watertank booms, data-screech waterfalls and a certain amount of dry psycho-geographist’s humour (as in fucked-up cheesy drum machine beats they occasionally summon up and put through the soiling chamber). So far, it’s best to judge Bokeh Edwards and Jade Hybou, a.k.a. “esoterrorists” Java Java Wetware by their track Even Cowgirls Get The Blues – a fragmentary aural story via a dreamy harmonica-assisted trudge through ruined domes and shattered glass, set further off-kilter by lapping folk soprano vocals and ending with secretive whispers and a handful of reverb-muffled gunshots.



 
In Manchester, support acts include obscure local psych/alt.folker and “veteran astral wanderer” Lazy Bones. Whether solo meanderer or journeying band, he/they have been at it for at least a decade and a half, coming up with “gentle melodies hid(ing) strange shadows, hidden yearnings and the promise of the transcendental” with a “whimsical ’70s edge” following the lysergic thicketry of Cope, Barrett and Jansch: some of it may be found on this cobwebbed MySpace site, if you can find your way in. Working in a similar vein (but easier to track down) is the bouzouki-driven power pop and stoner beat of The Peace Pipers, enthusiastic ’60s hippy-punk throwbacks with a taste for dressing up and dancing down the garden paths of The Move, early Pink Floyd and Dave Mason. The evening’s real wildcard is sometime ILL member Sadie Noble, a.k.a. Nummo Twin: generator of woody, baffling dream pop and abstracted yet covertly clever chucking-mud-at-the-wall collages of glitchy electronics, woodworking noises, and half-heard vocal mumbles.





 
The Todmorden show features raffishly arty tenor sax duo Wolf Scarers (Simon Prince and Keith Jafrate) and thrumming audio-visualizer Anna Peaker. With printmaking, DJing and gig promotion as part of her activity alongside the sound and graphics designer (and with an eye on branching out into dressmaking and ceramics.) Anna is an impressive DIY/do-anything character. Across her artwork she takes inspiration from Yorkshire weaving mills, witchcraft, old record sleeves and film posters; from ancient pathways and the millennia-spanning architectural layers of her base in Leeds. By itself, her music is skirling Yorkshire-Germanic variations on assorted psychedelic-chapel organ drones, billowing in and out of focus and sometimes including autoharp and field recordings – for the full effect, though, it’s tied into the cascade of her live visuals.

With Wolf Scarers, Simon and Keith blow a free-brewed stewing of various ingredients and inspirations from the multiple genres each has played individually (and sidestepping the temptations to baffle the acoustic tones any further with computer processing). The results range from “gentle meditations that almost become chamber music across to full-blown shout-ups in the true tenor sax tradition, via, possibly, messed-up marching band funk and deconstructed jazz strut.” Larger Wolfscaring lineups are rolled out when the music necessitates, but on this occasion it’ll be the core duo at work.


 
In Berlin, Ariadne are slotting in at the bottom of a mixed bill in the Kiezsalon series run by Michael Rosen. At the top is American sampling-and-computer-music pioneer Carl Stone, whose 1970s loops and repurposing of library records drew a kind of academic-based parallel to hip hop’s turntablism, and who’s subsequently kept pace with technological collaging possibilities while maintaining an accessible sense of found/captured/manipulated melody, plus a continually expanding taste for incorporating suggestions and content from other cultures’ music (in particular Asian cultures) and a disarmingly bonkers vocal quality. In the middle is French wind instrumentalist/synthesist Ariel Kalma, who’s been dwelling on the borderlines of process music, Paris experimentalism, New Age and electrophonic minimalism since the mid-‘70s.



 
Over at Prague’s Punctum venue, the first of two listed support acts is the acousmatic Sound Situation trio: domestic New Music exponents with electronicist Michal Rataj (electronics), Jan Trojan (more electronics, plate-bashing) and Ivan Boreš (prepared guitar) Veterans of academic music and live improv, as definition they spit out a host of word associations as definition: “sound design, freshly baked bottle in the fridge, movie soundtracks, radio art, pieces of sheet metal, flamenco, sirens, spectral transformations, Kvok!, teaching at the university… Ostrava new music days, abandoned sea beach, Contempuls, Noise Assault Agency Budweiss, BERG Orchestra, Gride”.

 
Unpick and reassemble that little lot if you wish; but note that Punctum have spent far less time expounding on who second Prague support Julia Dyck might be. To be frank, they’ve spent no time at all on it so far… but evidence points towards it being this woman. If so, you can expect to see or hear anything pulled from a bewildering, inspiring rack of potential directions and from a mind seething with forma drawn from feminist/queer/gender theory, from technological awareness and from Julia’s formidable polymathic curiosity about the world. It might be radiophonics, or synth minimalism, or voice-and-fx constructions, or ambient noise; it might be ideas drawing from her time as radio producer, writer and broadcast media artiste; or general conceptual experiments like the miked-up fruit-and-body performance she recorded for a batch of film festivals earlier in the year.

There are a few tasters below – the krautrock-in-the-frying-pan of Passenger, the ambient goo of Changes Made – but there’s too much to Julia to summarise in a paragraph or two or a handful of audio clips. Even briefly looking into what she does is like cracking an eggshell and finding an expansive, challenging pocket universe within, which then maps inexorably back onto your own and changes it behind your back.

 
* * * * * * * *

Full tour dates and details are still being assembled, but here are the ones I know about so far:

 

  • Saint Vitus Bar, 1120 Manhattan Avenue, Greenpoint, Brooklyn, New York City, NY 11222, USA – Friday 7th June 2019 (with Ideal and Dasychira) – information here, here, here and here
  • Blah Blah, via Po 21, 10124 Torino, Italy – Wednesday 12th June 2019, 8.00pm – information here
  • Le Brin de Zinc, 3 ZA Route de la Peysse, Chambery, 73000 Barberaz, France – Thursday 13th June 2019, 8.30pm – information here
  • St Paul’s Church Southville, 2 Southville Road (junction with Coronation Road), Bristol, BS3 1DG, England – Saturday 15th June 2019, 7.00pm (with Salaċ + Java Java Wetware) – information here and here
  • The Golden Lion, Fielden Square, Todmorden, OL14 6LZ, England – Sunday 16th June 2019, 7.30pm (with Wolf Scarers + Anna Peaker) – information here
  • The Peer Hat, 14-16 Faraday Street, Manchester, M1 1BE, England – 17th June 2019, 7.30pm (with Lazy Bones + The Peace Pipers + Nummo Twin) – information here
  • Sutton House, 2-4 Homerton High Street, Homerton, London, E9 6JQ, England – Tuesday 18th June 2019, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Muziekcentrum Kinky Star, Vlasmarkt 9, 9000 Ghent, Belgium – Wednesday 19th June 2019, 8.00pm – information here
  • MS Stubnitz, HafenCity, Kirchenpauerkai 26, Umfahrung Versmannstraße, Baakenhafen/Baakenhöft, 20457 Hamburg, Germany – Friday 21st June 2019, 8.00pm – information here, here and here
  • Komplex, Zietenstr. 32, 09130 Chemnitz, Germany – 22nd June 2019, 8.00pm – information here
  • Punctum, Krásova 27, Žižkov, 13000 Prague, Czech Republic – Sunday 23rd June 2019, 7.00pm (with Michal Rataj/Ivan Boreš/Jan Trojan + Julia Dyck) – information here and here
  • Wolskie Centrum Cultury, Wolskie Centrum Kultury, ul. Obozowa 85, 01-425 Warszawa, Poland – Monday 24th June 2019, 8.00pm – information here
  • Kiezsalon, Greifswalder Strasse 23a, 10407 Berlin, Germany – Wednesday 26th June 2019, 8.00pm (with Carl Stone + Ariel Kalma) – information here and here
  • Macao, Viale Molise 68, 20137 Milan, Italy – 28th June 2019, time t.b.c.

 

January 2019 – upcoming London experimental gigs – Marianne Schuppe’s ‘slow songs, nosongs’ (9th January)

5 Jan

I’ve got to admit, I like a complicated song. Blame all of that prog I grew up listening to; blame my interest in Sondheim and Flanders & Swann; or my time in choirs singing extended classical pieces… but whether it’s a case of stretching the lyrical format with streams of words or internal rhymes or of massing the music with variations, countermelodies or sundry intrusions, I like songs which develop quickly and boldly into something more extensive than a couple of riffs, a chorus and a bit of moon-in-june.

Marianne Schuppe, 2018

Marianne Schuppe, 2018

Encountering the kind of song which works at the other extreme, though, can be a real head-turner… and if it’s done right, it takes my breath away. The Swiss singer-composer Marianne Schuppe has been making a name for herself with this kind of song, this kind of singing, for about two decades now. It’s not the only thing she does (she’s a member of the Wandelweiser group of avant-garde composers, contributing instrumental and noise work, and she improvises with a variety of other musicians including Alfred Zimmerlin), but this particular aspect of her work stands out in its uncluttered boldness, its Zenlike simplicity and focus on only the necessary elements.

If you’re approaching this from a pop or avant-pop context, you could draw some comparisons with the more hovering, trepidatious interludes in modern-day Scott Walker, with Nico’s work on ‘The Marble Index’, or with the song whispers of Anja Garbarek’s ‘Smiling & Waving’. Aficionados of classical music could probably pick closer analogies – I could cite some aspects of Eleanor Armer‘s songcraft, for example – and a significant part of Marianne’s reputation comes from her dips into the indeterminate end of contemporary classical, making interpretations of the elusive, protracted song-murmurs of Morton Feldman and Giacinto Scelsi (with their minimal pitching, silences and opportunity to make every pared phrase count).

Yet for the most part Marianne’s own songs seem to bud out of the air spontaneously, any motivations or influences hidden within the moment. She’s stated that her prime interest as a composer-performer is “the voice’s ability to move between pure sound and words”; and while for many experimental vocalisers this is an excuse for splurging, showy explosions of babbling glossolalia, for her it’s an opportunity to slow liminal skating, shading almost imperceptibly between a lone, literally meaningful word and a lacuna of non-literal meaningful noise-tone, all within a low, minimal enclosure of soprano range like a deliquescing icicle. Marianne accompanies herself by placing an acoustic lute flat on a table top (a la Keith Rowe) and extracting notes from it via “uber-bows” – homemade bastard cousins of EBows, those hand-held electro-magnetic note inducers which add those sustained whooping tones to certain spacier rock songs (from Fade Away And Radiate, The Unforgettable Fire and Don’t Fear The Reaper to… oh, yes, R.E.M.’s Ebow The Letter) or the bookending humming halos to John Cage’s harp work ‘Postcard From Heaven’.

The sparse tonal wellings which result sound nothing like string plucks, and nothing like the accompaniments to a John Dowland lute lay. They’re amorphous bodies of tone, forced up like the first emergence of spring-waters, or the work of sine-tone generators. It’s a peculiar, unexpected use of an instrument with such an extensive body of associated work and history: like a kind of musical exorcism or automatic writing exercise, dipping below the surface of how the instrument functions in order to access a different expectation-disrupting voice. As for the songwords, they’re strange passes at impressions and impulses which might, if looked at too closely, disappear under the weight of logic. As text, they’re almost white-on-white – fragments of stories and encounters involving sunhats and deer, or studies of fingers – minimal anchors to latch onto slivers of ideas which Marianne can follow uninterrupted and undistracted, and let go whenever she sees fit.

 
Marianne’s slot next week at Café Oto showcases – or, more accurately, liberates – songs of these kind from two of her recent albums: 2015’s ‘slow songs’ and its 2018 cousin ‘nosongs’. In terms of vision and artistic platforming it ought to be very much an Oto show, although perhaps the venue’s friendly, expansive, post-industrial intellectual feel isn’t the perfect match. Ideally, these songs belong in the smallest, quietest space possible. A welcoming cellar somewhere, accessed by a winding symbolic stair; and with a silent, attentive, deep-listening audience hand-cupping songs and singer in a cell of absolute attention.

Marianne Schuppe: ‘slow songs, nosongs’
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Wednesday 9 January 2019, 7.30pm
– information here
 

October 2018 – singer-songwriter album launches in London and Wales – Hazel Iris (25th October), Emma Lohan (25th, 26th October)

21 Oct

Looking for events with singer-songwriting women in London? This coming Thursday, you can go big or go small.

* * * * * * * *

If you’re going for the bigger option, there’s Hazel Iris’ album launch in Smithfield, at St. Bartholomew-the-Great, no less. It’s an event that sprawls across the entire church: its varied acts located in different places within the building, like a cross between a miniature festival and a stations-of-the-cross procession. In one corner, two classical musicians – Katrina Sheppeard and Jayson Gillham (who between them have racked up appearances with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, ENO, Melbourne Symphony and the Sydney Opera House) will provide a piano-and-soprano duet performance of Richard Strauss’s ‘Vier letzte Lieder’ – the composer’s last work, a four-song death-and-transfiguration sealing of his legacy, composed during the dusk of the Romantic era. Next, in another corner, Kate Arnold – usually to be found as frontwoman for dark classical-folk fusioneers Fear Of The Forest – will be playing solo and acoustic with hammer dulcimer, violin and voice, providing a set of songs reflecting her folk, medieval and Middle Eastern influences.




 
And so to the headliner, who’s recently been making a name for herself as a standout performer at the Blind Dog Studio evenings. Hazel Iris is a storyteller with an overwhelming musical streak; her tales drawn from her travels, her own musings and her borrowings from the great stewpot of mythology and folklore. California-born and London-based but world-honed, her songs blend indie-folk habits, vaudeville brassiness, operatic training, lieder romance and a dash of country.




 
Bringing her brand-new ‘Nine Sisters’ album to life at St Barts is a similarly broad-based nine-piece band. The rhythm section – drummer Fred Harper and double-bassist Twm Dylan – come from the London and Leeds jazz scenes, while Winter Quartet violinist Aurora Del Río Pérez and French horn player Jessica Cottis are both established in the classical world (the latter, notably, as a conductor – she’s returning to a childhood instrument for this performance). Harpist Tara Minton straddles both jazz and classical worlds. Rounding out the ensemble is cellist and screen music composer Matt Constantine, classical accordionist Aine McLoughlin (Hazel’s regular collaborator at previous Blind Dog gigs), and up-and-coming guitarist Myles Peters (who plays anything and anywhere he can).

Also integral to the show will be the puppets of Alicia Britt, artistic director for Wondering Hands Puppet Theatre. Her usual gig involves using puppetry of all kinds for the entertainment and nourishment of all ages, with an undercurrent of healing, conversation and a restoration of our human nature: work that ranges from carefully-thought-out fairy tales of bereavement and development for children to bawdily sexual puppet-cabaret for adults. Quite possibly all aspects will be making a showing in her support work for Hazel. I’ve no idea whether huge rod-guided creatures will be leaping through the church or whether the puppetry will be on a smaller, more human scale with creatures the size of lutes or horns, but it should add an extra level of story texture.

* * * * * * * *

Speaking of smaller, more human scales – if all of the above sounds too grand, then on the same London night another songwriter – Emma Lohan – is launching her own debut album up in the south end of Hackney. ‘Black Atlantic’ pulls together Emma’s own particular blend of Irish hometown influences (she’s a Galway woman), pop leanings and traveller’s scraps, drawn from her footloose global roamings. Impressions and stories, a kind of global coast-combing or, as I put it last time, “beautifully-constructed cloud-tossed songs imbued with the flicker of constant motion.” The album itself is a small, quiet-reveal treasure imbued with a bouncing, soft-chatting liveliness. There’s jigs and kalimba, there’s age and youth, there’s plenty of story to unspool.

She’s doing it all again the following night in Wales – in an unusual display of synchronicity, at a puppet theatre in Cardigan – in a puppet theatre. Elusive ska band Julian’s Reluctant SKAfterparty are in support: no more info on them, I’m afraid. (Update, 24th October – sadly the Cardigan show has had to be cancelled, but they’re promising to reschedule it soon…)



 

All dates:

  • Hazel Iris + Kate Arnold + Jayson Gilham & Katrina Sheppeard – St Bartholomew the Great, Cloth Fair, West Smithfield, Clerkenwell, London, EC1A 7JQ, England, Thursday 25th October 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Emma Lohan – NT’s Bar, 1 Westgate Street #207, London Fields, London, E8 3RL, England, Thursday 25th October 2018, 7.00pm – information here
  • Emma Lohan – Small World Theatre, Bath House Road, Cardigan, Ceredigion, SA43 1JY, Wales, Friday 26th October 2018, 8.00pm (with Julian’s Reluctant SKAfterparty) – information here and here

 

September 2018 – upcoming London experimental gigs – eight for WITCiH’s ‘The State of Gender?’ festival (26th to 28th September) – Bishi, Chagall, Miri Kat, Di Mainstone, Lia Mice, Vicky O’Neon, Rebekah Ubuntu and Gazelle Twin

17 Sep


 
Music tech initiative WITCiH (positive, feminist, genderfluid, multicultural) returns to its regular canalside home at the end of the month, for its first work as a full commissioning platform. ‘The State of Gender?’ is a full festival following several standalone WITCiH concerts over the past few years. While open to all genders, skin tones and persuasions, the three nights of the festival present, foreground and celebrate WITCiH’s central preoccupations – women, technology and creativity. In additional, they continue to promote WITCiH’s extended interest in teasing out and broadening (and, where necessary, seizing) opportunities generally only offered to the male, the straight and the white, and sharing them out across a wider community.

If this sounds like a revolution, it’s a charming and positive one. The people in and around WITCiH are unafraid to critique and push against orthodoxy, and are equally unafraid of their own strength and potential; but this is primarily a celebration rather than a catharsis. Enthusiastic about its geekery, revelling in dressing up and performance, it seems to call into being a place and time in which the worst of patriarchal glowering and rigidity has been dispelled or dissolved; where the culture wars have been won from dance and crafting studios, and from workshops and sheds where electronic components are used to reel in the future. A place and time in which people are just free to get on with open-ended, humanitarian tech-play.

As regards how to get there, there’s a good interview here, at ‘Wyldemag’, in which WITCiH co-founder (and living, walking, proactive “giant culture clash”) Bishi points out her cultural-creative ethos, and that of WITCiH. “People are deciding – especially women and people of colour – that the simple answer is that you have to invest. I mean, it’s great that there’s more awareness and blah blah blah, but it’s really simple, with the minority groups in society, it’s not just about building awareness; it’s the sustained investment that comes with that. And, of course, all the social media and stuff is helpful, but living in a city is so expensive, and politically, everything is so rough and uneven and uncertain, and there’s something powerful about a collective of people coming together physically.”

On this occasion, it’s eight women (or, to be more precise, seven women plus a non-binary person with a female name) coming together. In amongst the music, three of them are going to be providing lectures – physical-pop explorer Chagall, “movician” Di Mainstone and conceptual wildcard Gazelle Twin.

Amsterdam-born but London-based, Chagall is an electronic music singer-songwriter, producer, and performer inspired by a wide-ranging collective-culture range of influences including “nature, Greek poetry, Bjork, James Blake, Beethoven, Nina Simone, Erykah Badu, Joni Mitchell & Miriam Makeba.”. Her particular musical approach embraces gestural and reactive technology: she was an early adopter of a key gestural synth controller, the Mi.Mu Gloves, and her performances involve choreography and triggered interactive visuals.



 
Chagall’s interest in body-gestural sound sourcing is shared – and then some – by “movician” Di Mainstone: artist-in-residence for Queen Mary College at the University of London, and one of the “new generation visionaries” of the international digital arts scene (according to the ‘New York Times’). Working with researchers from QMC’s Centre for Digital Music and Media Arts & Technology, Di creates musical instruments as wearable technology for dancers: electronic extensions of the human body, triggered by movement. These include the Human Harp (which she uses to play suspension bridges), the spring-based Whimsichord, the squeeze’n’jig Hydrochordion, the limb-like “choreophonic prosthetic” Serendipitichord and – outside of music – the Scorpions (a set of kinetic garments with a life of their own). Di also coined the “movician” term – a name for a player of her devices, “a hybrid artist who explores and composes sound through movement.”


 
Earlier on, I suggested that WITCiH was predominantly utopian. The work of Gazelle Twin provides a hellish counterpoint indicating that there’s still plenty of struggles to go through, whether it’s from sinister social forces or our own unacknowledged darknesses.

Beneath her alarming/exciting dual skins of latex costumery and processed sound, Gazelle Twin is Elizabeth Bernholz – composer, producer, incantationeer, framework-overturner and time-traveller. Via loops, sampling and processing, her work jams and transforms acoustic and Early Music sources (recorder, harpsichord, female chorus) against found sounds and electronic “shades of ‘90s house and the once-thriving rural rave scene, albeit recalled as a watery, second-hand memory.” The results buck and bray, ripple and snarl; delivering disturbing, liberating dreamscapes and warning fables with a violently physical component. In her videos, we see hissing ferocious folk devils battling it out; or blank-masked hooded figures capering and proliferating, barking and twitching like dysfunctional maenads. Much of it comes across as mingled summoning, exorcism and terrible warning. There’s rather a lot of teeth, and an underlying exploration of specific modern sicknesses via primeval mythology (redressed in manmade synthetics).

Elizabeth’s lecture promises to unpack and reveal the complex vision of one of Britain’s most unsettling and unexpectedly timely artists: it will cover the creation of the latest Gazelle Twin audio-visual project ‘Pastoral‘, including the influences and ideas behind this year’s Hobby Horse single and video (the aforementioned devilfest). En route, it will branch out into related fields exploring “fascism and horror in the English landscape past and present, (Elizabeth’s) own creative process from writing to recording/production, and her identity as a working artist and mother.”



 
Other musicians will be performing newly commissioned audio-visual music pieces. Bishi herself is performing in the middle of the bill on all three nights. There’s no specific clues as to what she’s doing, but on past form expect a melange of some or all of the following:

  • interlocking pop forms (from classic English to Eurosynth to Hindi filmi songs).
  • a headlong, full-on involvement with the intersection of grand costume and high fashion.
  • sitars, ukeleles, extended voice and Ableton synth controllers.
  • traditional folk material from the Balkans to Bengal; classical ideas from Hindustani tradition to contemporary opera.
  • vocal inspirations from Meredith Monk and Yoko Ono.
  • fervent and earnest positive politics (including song cycles about immigration, and a long-standing loyalty to queer club culture).
  • and finally, Bishi’s own strong and self-willed musical identity, which never rules out a willingness to interact or integrate with anyone from Sean Lennon to the London Symphony Orchestra (and with anything from interactive wind-harps to Christina Rosetti poems and giant floating holograms of Tony Benn).



 
By day, Miri Kat works as a Novation Music engineer, designing and finessing electronic musical instruments. She’s also a combined audio-visual artist and music producer, interested in algorithmic music, webtech and generative visuals, with further interests in hacking, live coding and immersive multimedia in general. Mainly composed with Max/MSP Supercollider (and with found sounds live-coded from open ecosystems with open-source tools), her productions provide “hyperactive textures (and) ephemeral collages, in turns frenetic and and lyrical, in a unique brand of glitchy grindcore for a post-Internet age.”

 
Lia Mice‘s work covers multiple bases: live electronic artist, producer, DJ and instrument designer. Sometimes she’s to be found applying her live analog sampling skills across “high energy vinyl-hybrid” DJ sets of electro, Italo, tech noir, acid and “weird-pop”. At other times she applies them to live sets of original music alongside “self-hacked” instruments and Max/MSP, while her recordings can stir in eight-track tape mangling alongside influences from Laurie Anderson, BBC Radiophonics and electronica across forty years from German pioneers to American outliers. Live sets also feature both live voice sampling and Lia’s own custom-designed tactile-interface instruments – such as the Delia Derbyshire-inspired Reeltime sound manipulator (based on a broken reel-to-reel tape recorder) and the suspended tap’n’tilt/swing/spin ChandeLIA (designed to blend the organic bell-like sound of tapping on a metal chandelier with the sound of the electricity powering its lights).

A major WITCiH supporter, Lia also designs sonic sculptures, is a contributor to the Augmented Instruments Lab in the Centre for Digital Music and is “forever taking refuge in the mysteries of the sonic universe.” Her third solo album, ‘The Sampler As A Time Machine’, is a selection of “experimental dance x wave-y industrial x parallel-dimension pop tracks”. For the festival, she’ll be presenting a lecture based on the album and its studio experiments (themselves inspired by time travel writings by philosophers, physicists, neurologists and psychologists from Mark Fisher to Oliver Sacks to Stephen Hawking).



 
An explosively enthusiastic character (and WITCHiH regular), Vicky O’Neon performs in a dazzle of beats plus shocking day-glo costumery and makeup. Born Vicky Österberg in Finland, she was originally a class-topping, award-winning drummer and percussionist at the British Institute of Modern Music. She went on to work around the world as sessioneer and tour-band member for the likes of Pharell Williams, Johnny Marr, Hans Zimmer and assorted live-set DJs. Since summer 2017, she’s gone solo, buoyed up by the success and positivity of her parallel work in tech/instrumental teaching and in co-founding girl-promoting music initiatives Girls Rock London, Rock Donna and Racuma.

Vicky characterises herself as a “relentlessly optimistic Riot Grrrl multi-instrumentalist, with fluoro-glowing intentions to inspire the masses with harmony, laughter and love … on a mission from a higher plane of consciousness, devoted to the elevation of human vibration.” Her one-woman show involves her making a delightful proactive racket via drum pads, loopstations, acoustic percussion, body-worn percussion triggers and MicroKorg synth, plus her own “tongue-in-cheek lyrics and visuals”. As the founder of the Electric Vegetable Orchestra she also mixes tech with vegetable husbandry, carving new instruments from fruit, tubers and other root vegetables, then playing them through loops and effects to create “catchy tunes and singalongs with the audience.” However she chooses to entertain you at WITCiH, she’s certainly got plenty of options to choose from.



 
Vicky’s fellow BIMM graduate Rebekah Ubuntu is a multimedia performance artist, musician and culture scholar experimenting with “ideas of futurism, rebellion, and paradoxes” filtered through queer, non-binary, black and feminist perspectives. Their work spans synthwave, glitch music, techno and various forms of Afro-futurism (including reference to black poets and writers such as Audre Lorde and Octavia Butler, black rock and punk statement, and Afro-orientated pop/house/trap/beat forms) as well as electronic soundscapes and vocal manipulations.

As with most of the other participants, Rebecca’s got a strong allegiance to (and grounding in) club culture, and they’ve recently played sets at black pride, queer and general futurist events from Berlin to Norwich and Birmingham’s FLUID festival. Outside of clubwork, previous work has included last year’s ‘trans.mission.Q’ sonic installation project for Tate Britain (in which Rebecca posed as an extra-terrestrial DJ encouraging gallery visitors to “add your voice(s) to the live soundscape as we broadcast our earthly messages to the remotest regions of outer space”. They also recently guest-edited new music webzine ‘The Sampler’, interviewing five queer, trans & non-binary sound-and-music artists about the intersection of their identities with their music.

 
* * * * * * * *

Full dates:

  • WITCiH presents ‘The State of Gender?’, evening 1: Chagall (lecture) + Bishi + Miri Kat – Wednesday 26th September 2018
  • WITCiH presents ‘The State of Gender?’, evening 2: Di Mainstone (lecture) + Bishi + Lia Mice + Vicky O’Neon – Thursday 27th September 2018
  • WITCiH presents ‘The State of Gender?’, evening 3: Gazelle Twin (lecture) + Bishi + Rebekah Ubuntu – Friday 28th September 2018

All events are at The Barge House, 46a De Beauvoir Crescent, De Beauvoir Town, London, N1 5RY, England at 7.00pm. Further information is here, here and here.

Note that on the evening of the 27th – the day before her appearance at the festival – Gazelle Twin will also be making a live in-store appearance at Rough Trade East off Brick Lane, performing tracks from ‘Pastoral’.
 

September 2018 – women singing (in London, mostly, and Cambridge) – Ana Silvera (15th), Susanna Wallumrød (27th), Hear Her Sounds evening with The Butterfly Wheel, Mary-Grace Dineen and Imogen Bliss (19th)

4 Sep

In Cambridge on, the 15th, there’s a repeat performance for Ana Silvera’s ‘Oracles’ song cycle, following its appearance at the South Bank Centre back in July, where Ana was bolstered by a Kate Church/Alice Williamsondance film, a folk-jazz string trio, piano, percussion and the multi-instrumental/singing skills of Listenpony’s Josephine Stephenson. The Cambridge show’s stripped down (just Ana and Josephine this time, and perhaps the dance film) but should still deliver. Beautifully crafted and sung, it’s an Anglo-Portuguese meditation and discussion of familial bereavement (Ana’s mother and brother) and of the shifting landscapes of migration. Originally conceived to have a choral sound and scape, it draws “on folk tales and myths to chart a transformative journey from profound grief to tentative acceptance.”

The last time around, I suggested that it was “a wide-spectrum take on adult pop without a trace of that genre’s unnecessary blandening: an as-it-happens assessment of the dramatic personal shifts in position following the loss of both loved ones and of the relationship one has with them while they’re alive. What I’ve heard of it so far suggests a similar vivacity as her songs elsewhere on album or in her theatrical work – vividly characterized narratives of internal reflection and of landscapes both physical and emotional, mingling detailed, nakedly honest personal verbal imagery and an influx of Portuguese folk feel in a way which makes (Ana) sound a little like an Iberian Jane Siberry.”




 

In London on the 27th, Norwegian singer Susanna Wallumrød plays her only British show of 2018. Originally – during the mid-Noughties – her ghostly, questioning, sighing vocal originally fronted The Magical Orchestra’s Nordic-jazz/ambient-pop reinventions of assorted pop, country and rock standards. Since then she’s moved on to other collaborations – with holy-meditative jazz pianist Tord Gustavsen; with boundary-running song experimentalist Jenny Hval; and in particular with baroque harpist Giovanna Pessi (who’s contributed to three of her seven solo albums). Along with violinist Sarah-Jane Summers and accordionist Frode Haltli, Giovanna will be performing at this London concert, which showcases Susanna’s newest album ‘Go Dig My Grave’.

Post-Magical Orchestra, Susanna’s kept up her role as re-interpreter. While the majority of her solo albums (up to and including 2016’s consummate ‘Triangle’), have featured her own songs, her ongoing work is littered with cool-toned covers, reworkings, reframings. Songs by Sandy Denny, Thin Lizzy, ABBA, Prince, Nico, Will Oldham and others were cultivated on 2008’s ‘Flower Of Evil’; while her 2011 collaboration with Giovanna and fellow baroque/Early Music musicians Marco Ambrosini and Jane Achtman provided parallel takes on Nick Drake, Henry Purcell and Leonard Cohen.

‘Go Dig My Grave’ builds on this inquisitive, restaging impetus, with Susanna’s original pieces cheek-by-jowl with her takes on “Charles Baudelaire to Joy Division, English folk to American blues, a seventeenth-century lament by Purcell to Lou Reed’s Perfect Day” , all blended with “echoes of traditional music, baroque classics and dark ambient sounds.” It’s a project of timeshifts: or, more accurately, of superimposed time, in which songs and stylings of different eras interpenetrate and merge in spellbinding manner.



 
Dates:

  • Ana Silvera: ‘Oracles’ – The Junction, Clifton Way, Cambridge CB1 7GX, England, Saturday 15th September 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Susanna Wallumrød: ‘Go Dig My Grave’ – Rich Mix, 35- 47 Bethnal Green Road, Shoreditch, London, E1 6LA, England, Thursday 27th September 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here

* * * * * * * *

In between – on 19th September, in London – there’s the second in Hoxton’s ongoing ‘Hear Her Sounds’ evenings; a semi-acoustic live event in a small space, with cocktails, vegan snacks, all-female lineups and organisers/initiators The Butterfly Wheel as regulars, aimed at supporting emerging female musicans. (The first one slipped my attention back in July. That was a shame, featuring as it did Margot Weidemann’s desert-sparse psych-folk project Daisy Oracle and the “twist(ing) song structure(s), striking hallucinatory lyrics, and unexpected radiophonic sounds” of former Joanna And The Wolf frontwoman Johanna Glaza.)

Alongside the Wheel-ers, mandolinist/singer/loop-stationeer Imogen Bliss played support at The Mantis Opera’s August gig last month at Paper Dress. Now, as then, you can expect to hear her weaving together songs from the East and the West: delivering slender, sparkling arrangements of old pop hits from hither and yon, plus original songs and layered one-woman folk chorales with Romani, Armenian and Balkan origins.

A few examples are below, along with a couple from by billmate Mary-Grace Dineen. A south-east Londoner, Goldsmiths graduate and sometimes session multi-instrumentalist, Mary’s output as singer-songwriter seems to vary between zippy, polyrhythmic jazz-coustica reminiscent of Eva Abraham, Roberta Flack (or, more recently, Gabriela Eva) and sour-sweet Lauryn Hill-esque pop-reggae. Her lyrics betray restlessness, compassion and a conversational impatience with the unresponsive and the inert. It seems she’s been quiet for a few years; now she’s coming out to play again.


 

As for The Butterfly Wheel, they’ll be bringing their Gothic romance, their ritual chant and their vocal flair. Previously I’ve sniped a bit about the duo’s showy, overtly flowery mysticism; their self-hype, their claims of originality and experimentalism despite a transparent debt to Early Music-toting Goth-tinged forebears like Dead Can Dance or Miranda Sex Garden. But when the hype is done, and they get down to business, they do bring a new flavour to that ripe old stew.

Reading beneath the lush electrophonic drones and the climbing priestess incantations, you can draw that personal touch out of their songs like long strands of myth-soaked twine – those places where they’ve taken old bronze-age stories, boiled them down to their most archetypal juices and then infused a latterday consciousness, an active female note of resistance, a little #TimesUp and sky-father toppling amidst the bones and sinews. When I hear that peeping through, I’m sorry that I bitched…



 
The Butterfly Wheel and MOVI present:
Hear Her Sounds: An Evening of Live Female-Led Music featuring The Butterfly Wheel + Mary-Grace Dineen + Imogen Bliss
Matters of Vinyl Importance, 163 Hoxton Street, Hoxton, London, N1 6pJ, England
Wednesday 19th September 2018, 6.30pm
– information here and here
 

August 2018 – husk, rime and lanterns – a double dose of Jack Hayter in a Gravesend lightship (18th August)

14 Aug

I like the idea of a mobile arts venue. A seabound one is even better. LV21, a forty-metre decommissioned former lightship, once kept other ships from foundering on the rocks along the Kentish coast. Now it’s a floating art space and performance facility, moving intermittently between Thames estuary towns. Although it’s been resting at a long-term Gravesend mooring since summer 2016, LV21 still fits the measure for art-on-the-move (while its sister vessel, LV18, performs a similar function at a similar mooring up the coast at Harwich).

International Lighthouse Lightship Weekend @ LV21, 18th August 2018

Wherever it happens to be at the time, LV21 opens up in full each summer for the overlapping International Lighthouse Lightship Weekend and International Lighthouse Heritage Weekend, allowing visitors to explore the vessel and immerse themselves in lightship and lighthouse history from around the world. Also on offer at the event this year – this weekend – are lessons in tying sailor’s knots, a soldering and radio workshop (build your own pocket amplifier and speaker) and Nicola Pollard of stripped-down drama company Up The Road Theatre inviting discussion for the next UTR production, ‘Peril At Sea’ (set to explore “stories, memories, myths and songs of smuggling, shipwrecks and survival” and to tour around English coastal towns including Lowestoft, Portsmouth and Wells-next-the-Sea).

Jack Hayter @ ILLW 2018, Gravesend, 18th August 2018Of course, it’s music rather than knots that’s attracting my interest. Also on hand is Jack Hayter – wandering multi-instrumentalist, onetime Hefner member, ex-Dollboy-er, Ralegh Long and Papernut Cambridge collaborator; the writer and performer of memorable contemporary folk songs and a relatively recent new Gravesend resident. He has two interesting – and very different – nautical music productions going on in the bowels of the ship.

The first of these is ‘Flashes & Occultations’, a sonic installation in the generator room comprising “a seventy-seven-minute-long sonic improvisation on lighthouse life.” It was originally released by London indie label Where It’s At Is Where You Are in 2017 as part of their ‘Seven@77‘ compilation, on which it loomed massively over the thirteen other pieces (each of them clocking in at a measly seventy-seven seconds). In typically dry and witty fashion, Jack describes it as a salvage job on a foolhardy, ambitious effort to sidestep the requested seventy-seven-minute pedal steel improvisation in favour of an attempt to make “a transient sound sculpture from the identification patterns of distant lighthouses, buoys and light vessels; to convert their flashes and occultations into small voltages using telescopes, light-sensitive resistors and photodiodes, then to use those derived signals to trigger samples and control analogue synths. I was overambitious and my experiments were largely a technical failure. I also got cold and muddy while recording foghorns. Worse still, those supposedly unique and exciting light patterns often turned out to be “one flash every twenty seconds” or “red occulting thrice every minute on a Tuesday. Then I ran out of time.”

Salvaging the project wreckage, Jack returned to the original brief – improvising on pedal steel around field recordings, stirring in documentary dialogue, eight-bit synth pads and calling in a few friends and favours to obtain further ingredients: poetry, wordless harmony singing, harmonium drones and electronic oscillator. Despite his disclaimers, he came up with an effective, charming piece – at different points lulling, humorous and lyrically haunting – which absolutely deserves its second life amongst the Gravesend solenoids and gauges, where Jack claims he might play along with it “from time to time” on live fiddle. Here’s a short excerpt with accompanying video (filmed up at the Firth of Forth) – also, if you’re curious but can’t make it down to LV21 this Saturday, here’s the whole piece in audio.



 
Jack’s second musical contribution of the day is the one-off free live gig he’s performing in the ship (on deck? in the hold?) during the evening, in which he’s going to be performing “a set of my songs and stories which will loosely follow the river from Deptford down to Gravesend finishing up at Margate, with diversions.” Here’s where you get to see Jack in the raw – a rangy, weatherbeaten feller with a voice as chewed-up and resilient as an ancient poster still clinging onto a seafront fence. His recent album, ‘Abbey Wood‘, is one of 2018’s under-the-radar triumphs, a compelling song collection recorded in defiantly threadbare folk fashion but with infusions of avant-garde turn-up-and-play instrumentation. Its ace in the hole, however, is Jack’s songwriter vision. As ever, he writes with a documentarian’s timing and eye for sparse, telling detail; with a poet’s knack for sifting detritus and forgotten trash to find significance; and with a determination to tell stories from those broad, deliberately ignored margins of society which actually make up its overlooked majority.

Jack’s songbook includes tales of post-war slump and of the rural working class swept into conflict; the hopes and dreams of sewage workers; the luckless POWs sunk with the SS Andora Star; the fumblings of early love under the shadow of the Cold War. Crucially – and despite his sharp, assured literacy – he always writes these from the inside and on the level, rather than as booky preachings from above. These are stories about people on lean means, living within strung-together moments: a compassionate, sometimes subtly angry cinema of life’s grain outside the slick and aspirational. They vouch and voice for the itinerate, the sidelined; the workers who just get on with it; the kids with foggy futures stirred and impelled by vast indifferent forces.

Jack’s delivery of these tales, meanwhile, is battered, warm, inclusive, strangely dignified, and mesmeric. Check out an earlier review I did of one of Jack’s previous live performances; or have a dip into the selection of tracks below.





 
Jack Hayter @ International Lighthouse Lightship Weekend 2018
Light Vessel 21, (currently moored at) St Andrews Quay, Royal Pier Road, Gravesend, Kent DA12 2BD, England
Saturday 18 August 2018
• ILLW full event duration: 12.00pm-11.00pm
• Flashes & Occultations installation: 12.00pm-4.00pm
• Jack Hayter free live set: 7.00pm-11.00pm

– free event – information here, here, here and here
 

July 2018 – upcoming London singer-songwriter gigs – Ana Silvera’s ‘Oracles’ at the South Bank (4th July) and Holly Penfield’s ‘Fragile Human Monster’ in Piccadilly (9th July)

1 Jul

Ana Silvera, 4th July 2018

‘Oracles’ – the BASCA-nominated song-cycle by Anglo-Portuguese singer-songwriterAna Silvera – already has a seven-year history. Created more or less in parallel with her debut album ‘The Aviary’ (and originally a choral piece for the NEC choir at the Roundhouse), it’s now returning this month, freshly re-arranged for Ana and small vocal/instrumental ensemble, for a full album release and the first of two 2018 live shows.

A response to the pain of intimate family bereavement, ‘Oracles’ “draws on folk tales and myths to chart a transformative journey from profound grief to tentative acceptance.” In some senses it’s a wide-spectrum take on adult pop without a trace of that genre’s unnecessary blandening: an as-it-happens assessment of the dramatic personal shifts in position following the loss of both loved ones and of the relationship one has with them while they’re alive.

What I’ve heard of it so far suggests a similar vivacity as her songs elsewhere on album or in her theatrical work – vividly characterised narratives of internal reflection and of landscapes both physical and emotional, mingling detailed, nakedly honest personal verbal imagery and an influx of Portuguese folk feel in a way which makes her sound a little like an Iberian Jane Siberry.


 
For the live performance, Ana’s six-piece band features her co-arranger – Listenpony curator and singing multi-instrumentalist Josephine Stephenson – plus a wealth of folk-jazz talent in the shape of the string trio of Jasper Høiby on double bass, Alice Zawadzki on vocals and violin, and Alice Purton on vocals and cello, plus Will Barry on piano and percussion.

The concert will feature “specially arranged new songs” for the first half and a full run through ‘Oracles’ for the second: the latter including a specially commissioned dance film by Royal Ballet/’Random Acts‘ director/dancer Kate Church and art director Alice Williamson.

Ana Silvera – ‘Oracles’
Purcell Room @ Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, Waterloo, London, SE1 8XX, England
Wednesday 4th July 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here


 
* * * * * * * *

Holly Penfield, 9th July 2018

From where she’s standing in her life right now, Holly Penfield can reach out in both directions to touch the passionate, large-lunged ingenue singer of her youth and the salty life-loving veteran she’s transforming into. Of course, she’s got a longer, bolder reach than most. Once tagged as “David Bowie meets Liza Minelli” by a surprised and wrongfooted Simon Cowell, she’s a classic torch-pop singer with a stunning voice who’s also both blessed and cursed with an upsetter’s drive. These days, as she rebounds from twenty years as a leading international cabarettier in order to return to her own songs, it’s more of a blessing.

Raised in San Francisco (and a veteran of the 1980s LA pop scene with the scars to prove it) Holly spent much of the ‘90s writing and performing the psychodramatic one-woman pop show ‘Fragile Human Monster’ in London and elsewhere. A show with such troubled and intense undercurrents that it eventually blew itself apart, it’s now spawned a return… but under very different circumstances. The whirling mirror-glass synths and saxophones of the old days have been replaced by a gritty post-Americana rock band (which growls, gnaws and struts through her songs like a Cash or Waits ensemble) while Holly herself has mostly forsaken standing behind a keyboard (except for when a grand piano ballad calls for that set of skills).


 
It’s funny, sad, uplifting and stirring all at once. Once the very embodiment of storm-tossed waif and precarious survivor, Holly’s now a wiser and much happier woman. She still absolutely owns the stage, though, helping herself to a big dollop of the jazz and blues flavourings which shaped her initial development, playing a dash of ukulele and engaging in some zestful shimmying (and some delightfully ludicrous party outfits, worn with wit and flair – it seems as if her recent steps away from cabaret involved at least one sly step back).


 
What hasn’t changed is the quality of her singing, and of her songs. While old FHM standards like Misfit, The Last Enemy, puddle-of-grief ballad Stay With Me, and slinking fingersnapper You Can’t Have The Beauty Without The Beast have shed skins and made the transition to the new show, Holly’s also been dipping into a trunk of neglected and mostly previously unheard work, including the tremendous state-of-the-world song Confessions (based around a lyrical hook she once dangled in front of an intrigued Joni Mitchell) and the vivacious Tree Woman (a more recent effort in which she vigorously embraces both her own ageing and the resilience that comes with it).

Holly Penfield’s Fragile Human Monster Show
Crazy Coqs @ Brasserie Zédel, 20 Sherwood Street, Soho, London W1F 7ED, England
Monday 9th July 2018, 9.15pm
– information here


 

June 2018 – upcoming chamber-fusion and Rock In Opposition gigs in London – North Sea Radio Orchestra (2nd June); Lindsey Cooper Songbook with The Watts, John Greaves and Chlöe Herington (16th June)

24 May

North Sea Radio Orchestra, 2nd June 2018

North Sea Radio Orchestra are bringing their chamber-fusion sound to south London as part of the Lambeth Readers & Writers Festival. They’re a leafy and lambent confection of strings, reeds, nylon-strong guitar, boutique post-Stereolab keyboards and softened brass, fronted by the heartfelt disparate vocals of husband and wife team Sharron and Craig Fortnam (one a clarion carol, the other a papery whisper-croon).

Given the Festival’s context, they might pull out a few of the pieces with which they initially made their name a decade-and-a-half ago – garlanded, illuminated settings of Thomas Hardy, William Blake and Alfred Lord Tennyson. Either way, come for an evening which merges English country-garden airiness with German experimental rock boffinry and Zappa-styled tuned-percussion tinkles. Regular gigmate and sometime NSRO contributor William D. Drake was scheduled for a support slot, but since an injury put him out of action for the summer, he’s had to pull out. There may or may not be a suitable replacement.




 
Lambeth Readers & Writers Festival presents:
North Sea Radio Orchestra
Clapham Library, Mary Seacole Centre, 91 Clapham High Street, Clapham, London, SW4 7DB, England
Saturday 2nd June 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

* * * * * * * *

Lindsay Cooper Songbook, 16th June 2018

There’s a tenuous but true link between NSRO and Yumi Hara’s Half The Sky project. On top of the existing ties of friendship, they’re both mostly-acoustic chamber music projects with prominent bassoon and an electric experimental rock component; both focus predominantly on a single composer; both lean (implicitly or explicitly) towards the ‘70s Canterbury scene and sound.

However, where NSRO has a core of sweetness Half The Sky is decidedly umami. Set up to curate, recreate and perform the work of the late Lindsay Cooper (and specialising in the repertoire she put out for the groups Henry Cow, News From Babel and Music for Films) theirs is a knottier, more querying sound: a winding road full of debate and pointings, animated but affectionate.

There have been shifts in the band recently. While Yumi continues on keyboards and lever harp alongside co-founder/former Cow drummer Chris Cutler, and singer Dagmar Krause was added as the primary vocalist for last year’s European dates, the band now features John Greaves on bass and keyboards and Tim Hodgkinson on reeds and lap steel, bringing its ex-Cow member count up to four (with Chlöe Herington still on hand to add more assorted reeds). They’ve kept the fifty-fifty male/female player ratio which reflected their original title, but have now taken up the more sober, less whimsical name of Lindsay Cooper Songbook. This will be the debut of the new crew, but here’s video of various previous lineups of the band in action in London and Japan…



 
The evening also features three support sets drawn from the ensemble. Making their British debut, The Watts unites Yumi Hara with Tim Hodgkinson and Chris Cutler in a post-Cow trio. John Greaves adds a solo performance of his own songs on voice and piano, and Chlöe Herington (following the development of her VALVE project into a collective female trio which, in some respects, echoes Lindsay’s work with FIG) will be returning to her own solo roots with music for bassoon and electronics. If there are any gaps left, staunch ‘Organ’-ista Marina Organ will be filling them with her DJ set, drawing on the horde of fringe-rock and experimental records she plays on her Resonance FM show.

Lindsay Cooper Songbook + The Watts + John Greaves + Chlöe Herington + DJ Marina Organ
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Saturday 16th June 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

There’ll be a second chance to catch them this summer – at the Zappanale in Bad Doberan Germany on 21st July. For those who missed my Lindsay summary last time, here’s a trimmed version:

“Long before the knot of current pop-culture wrangling over women’s control over the music they make, (Lindsay) was plugging away in her own corner, striving (and ultimately succeeding) for much the same thing in the often arid and unforgiving spaces of British art rock, improv and jazz… Pinning down the nature of a woman’s work in art – or women’s work in general – is not always an easy thing, nor even desirable. Even the most positive intentions can produce more restrictive categories, more unwanted boxings and demands to conform.

“In the case of Lindsay, whose career always foregrounded honest effort and end product over personality showboating, and which was tinted by doubt and determination, it’s probably best to concentrate mostly on the mind behind the music: to listen to the querying voice coming through. Operating over a set of times in which both contemporaries and colleagues had a tendency towards answers and stances, stated in both bald pronouncements and modernist-baroque ornamentations, she opted to bring a more questioning tone which nonetheless carried some of its possible answers in both action and presentation.

“Hers was a polymathic but purer musicality: an instrumental voice which voyaged alongside others’ often harsher pronouncements, détournements and doctrines and drew from them while never being subject to them, and which always kept a gentler, more accommodating side open to allow growing space and to consistently rebuild… She was responsible for most of the piled jazzy grandeur of the second side (of Henry Cow’s ‘Western Culture’) finding previously unexplored links between the music of New York, Canterbury and Switzerland)…

“In the late ’70s Lindsay had already formed the witty, subversive Feminist Improvising Group, or FIG (which) not only enabled previously sidelined female voices onto the improv scene but deliberately upturned expectations as to what such a scene could achieve. FIG were spontaneous, mutually supportive and – just as importantly – funny. With a strong and personal rooting in lesbian, class-based and feminist activism (plus parallel feelings of sidelining and denial on the part of others) but a suspicion of dogma, they expressed frustration and political challenge by drawing on a collective sense of the absurd and of the sympathetic… Men carped, frowned and cold-shouldered; women laughed, argued and sometimes welcomed; the group members continually challenged their own sense of self and role; but the work itself sounds joyously unshackled – something I would have loved to have been around to see…

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

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

April 2018 – folk-theatre in progress in London and Bristol: ‘Travelling With Thomas’ (12th, 23rd, 24th April)

8 Apr

I can’t believe that, up until now, I’ve managed to miss news of this. A team gradually workshopping a brand-new folk musical and bringing it to the public in Bristol and London this month – a folk opera, really, based on an old, old story (in fact, one of my favourites of its kind, about a man given the twisted gift of prophecy along with the inability to lie, often with the proviso that the results will come back and hit him).

'Travelling With Thomas', 2018

“An ancient tale. A new twist. A musical journey. ‘Travelling With Thomas‘ presents an interactive gig that presents beautiful new songs, music and artwork to explore the legends and folklore of Thomas the Rhymer. Forced to travel to Fairyland, Thomas is helped and hindered as he tries to find a safe way home. It is a tale of fairness, love, truth and time. Come and join the journey!

“Composer Laurel Swift and designer Lizzie Watts invite you to share their journey with some of the finest performers on the scene as they start to create a new folk musical, and conclude their first year-long collaborative project. This fourth and final showcase is a summary of the perilous journey so far and a tantalising insight into what’s to come. It’s a unique, behind the scenes insight into the artistic development of ‘Travelling with Thomas’. Through an exhibition and concert, view Lizzie’s distinctive artwork and hear Laurel’s contagious music performed by a captivating cast of leading folk performers.”

Laurel’s already an inspiring (or intimidating) talent – the founder, leader and choreographer of the self-explanatory Morris Offspring dance troupe; ceilidh fiddler and singer in The Gloworms; double bassist in Gadarene; and clogdancer in pretty much everything she does. She’s dipped into storytelling before, telling a semi-improvised selkie tale as the instrumental/dancing half of the ‘Under Her Skin‘ team (alongside performance storyteller Debs Newbold). Lizzie is even more deeply embedded in tale-telling, probably being best known as a third of the three-woman core of Thimble Theatre who assemble physical theatre out of circus, music and traditional arts.

In addition, the ensemble putting the music together is a pretty fantastic cross-section of British folk, classical and theatrical crossover. It features singer and fiddler Ben Moss (Lauren’s partner in both Ben & Laurel and the spring-themed touring show ‘A Branch of May’), plus Lizzie’s Thimble Theatre cohort Harriet Riley (marimba and percussion, also in Spindle Ensemble and Tezeta). Other members are Hazel Askew (voice and flute, from Lady Maisery and The Askew Sisters), Nick Janaway (a.k.a. Newton Disc, voice and guitar), Deb Chalmers (fiddle and viola, from Stepling, The Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra and innumerable sessions), Sarah Moody (cello and voice, from The Devil’s Violin), and finally the Bellowhead/Faustus duo of Benji Kirkpatrick (voice, bouzouki) and Paul Sartin (fiddle, oboe, voice).

Dates and places:

  • Horsefair (formerly the Alliance Boots store), 49 The Horsefair, Broadmead Shopping Centre, Bristol, BS1 3JY, England, Thursday 12th April 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Gunnersbury Park Museum @ The Small Mansion, Gunnersbury Park, Acton, London, W3 8LQ, England, Monday 23rd April 2018, 1.00pm – information here, here and here
  • Cecil Sharp House, 2 Regents Park Road, Camden Town, London, NW1 7AY, England, Tuesday 24th April 2018, 7.30pm – information here, here and here

Sadly, I’ve picked this up too late to bring news of opportunities for you to get involved in the early developments, but at least you now get to see the work in something close to a finished form. Here are a couple of videos to explain more of the concept…

 

April 2018 – London classical/classical fusion/experimental gigs – North Sea Radio Orchestra and V Ä L V E at the Lexington (15th April); Sarah Deere-Jones harp-and-choir song cycle in the heart of Westminster (21st April)

3 Apr

North Sea Radio Orchestra + V Ä L V E , 15th April 2018

North Sea Radio Orchestra + V Ä L V E
The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, N1 9JB, London, England
Sunday 15th April 2018, 4.00pm
– information here, here and here

Last seen using their classical leanings to command the gorgeous baroque interior of Oxford’s Holywell Music Room, chamber-fusion group North Sea Radio Orchestra are heading back to London to fistbump the other branch of their own roots. Arguably, the Lexington is London’s current home of forward-looking eclectic prog and psychedelia; and the NSRO (whose own moist-aired and mournfully jaunty English psychedelic sensibility is inspired by both Robert Wyatt and Cardiacs) are paying it a visit.

Led, as ever, by the husband-and-wife Fortnam team of Craig and Sharron, they’ll bring along their combination of Anglo-pastoral classical gentility, their London clay bed foundations, their motorik strings-and-reeds chamber-kosmische (equal parts Britten, Neu!, Penguin Café Orchestra and ‘Ivor The Engine’) and their unorthodox vocals (Craig’s vulnerable, transparent murmur; Sharron’s homespun clarion of mezzo-soprano-meets-folk-punk). They’ve always possessed a mingling of the down-to-earth and the numinous, as well as their own spin on English psych’s way of plugging into ancient national myths (the patient ones tucked away in strata far, far below the more prickly, hijackable old pomp-and-circumstances).



 
Yet, in parallel to the Fortnams’ relocation from London to Salisbury, NSRO’s gradual songwriting and compositional journey (especially over the last couple of albums) has seen them move away from Victorian revivals and fine church woodwork; shifting their poetic patron spirit from their early taste for Tennyson (and through a transitional fix on Blake) to end up with Craig and Sharron’s own experiences of landscape magic, familial loss and loyalties. The process has also seen NSRO quietly phase into a worldview that’s less of a beautifully polished bubble of English nostalgia, and is now more implicitly inclusive of gentle acknowledgements of English connections and fallibilities as well as paeans to oak, ash, ridgeways and birds.

To be fair to them (in times when celebrations of antique, semi-rural Englishness can lead to accusation of chocolate-box/mug-of-tea fascism), NSRO have always seemed naïve as opposed to genuinely being naïve. More recent centrepiece songs and pieces have reflected on the balefulness of nationalism, and celebrated more benevolent co-operations such as the Berlin Airluft – the Fortnam’s kinder, fiercer convictions now written more clearly in the texture of their music; a demonstration that that taste for Wyatt goes deeper than just mood-shadings.

In support are the apparently tireless V Ä L V E – click here for a string of recent posts in which I babble repetitively about their bassoonical beginnings, messy play with lost objects, Rock in Opposition links, and current status as harp/bass/reed toting classical/experimental punks. As with many of the band’s recent gigs, this is familial (V A L V E being another branch on the rambling Cardiacs shrub thanks to mainwoman Chlöe Herington’s role as Knifeworld bassoonist), but V A L V E is a far more elusive beast, deeply embedded in avant-garde visual scoring, synthaesthesia and a kind of feminist tyro-science approach to memory and associations as well as an opportunity to make a noisy puckish semi-improvised racket and a group singing session.



 
* * * * * * * *

Sarah Deere-Jones and Cornwall Harp Centre present:
Sarah Deere-Jones: ‘Carmina Iocunda: Songs for the Seasons’
St Matthew’s Church, 20 Great Peter Street, Westminster, London, SW1P 2BU, London, England
Saturday 21st April 2018, 6.00pm
– free event – information here

Sarah Deere-Jones' 'Carmina Iocunda: Songs for the Seasons', 21st April 2018
Harpist and composer Sarah Deere Jones premieres the first complete performance of her new composition ‘Carmina Iocunda (Songs For The Seasons)’ a twenty-two minute song cycle for choir and lever harp which she describes as “a combination of everything I love – mediaeval literature, the English countryside, the changing seasons, choral music and of course, the sound of the harp.” The piece sets eight mediaeval poems (one by Chaucer, one by Shakespeare, the rest anonymous or unassigned) in four blocks of two, or two for each season, in a format which Sarah notes is “similar to Britten’s famous ‘Ceremony of Carols’.”

The concert is free and runs for an hour – there are no details or confirmation yet, but this suggests that Sarah might also be performing other pieces from her repertoire , whether as composer or as specialist player (in addition to her work on pedal and lever harps, she’s currently the only authentic-style performer on the Regency harp-lute and the dital harp).

Below is a video clip of the original choral version (minus harp) of one of the eight ‘Carmina Iocunda’ pieces, ‘Blou northern wind’ (as performed by Exeter University Chapel Choir back in 2015, while the larger work was still being assembled), as well as one of Sarah in action on both concert harp and windblown Aeolian harp out at Glastonbury Abbey and the Somerset Levels.



 

April 2018 – upcoming London classical/experimental/folk gigs – Caterina Barbieri solotronic set at Kammer Klang, plus Zwerm Ensemble and the RAM’s Experimental Music Ensemble playing Feldman, Dowland, Brown and Baillie (3rd April); the ‘What is England?’ festival including Bishi/Jeff Cook’s ‘The Good Immigrant”, Ansuman Biswas, Suna Alan and John Spiers (20th-23rd April)

28 Mar

Dips into the mid-twentieth century New York School (including its work with graphic scores) and into unintentionally sprightly electronica characterise a surprisingly sober, instrumentally-based April show for Kammer Klang.

Kammer Klang, 3rd April 2018Kammer Klang presents:
Kammer Klang: Caterina Barbieri + Zwerm Ensemble (playing John Dowland, Earle Brown and Joanna Baillie) + RAM Experimental Music Ensemble (playing Morton Feldman)
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Tuesday 3rd April 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Opening, the Royal Academy of Music’s Experimental Music Ensemble present Morton Feldman‘s rarely-performed, highly textured septet piece ‘The Straits Of Magellan’. Dating back to 1961, the piece’s graphical score is an array of coded time boxes, each containing representative symbols for single or simultaneous notes/durations/colourations; while the dynamics of the composition are explicitly and sternly noted (with minimal note attacks, a generally quiet approach but multiple instructions for glissandi, harmonics etc), the pitches are left entirely up to the players’ choices. Here’s one of the many possible interpretations:


 
In the middle of the bill are Belgian electric guitar quartet Zwerm Ensemble (avant-garde favourites whose collaborations and performance credits include Fred Frith, Mauro Pawlowski, Larry Polansky, Eric Thielemans, Yannis Kyriakides and Etienne Guilloteau) The four members (Toon CallierJohannes WestendorpBruno Nelissen and Kobe van Cauwenberghe) will present arrangements of ‘Semper Dowland, Semper Dolens’ (by peerless Renaissance lute composer John Dowland), ‘December 1952’ (by twentieth century “open form” pioneer Earle Brown,and, like the Feldman piece, sourced from a graphic score) plus a performance of ‘Last Song From Charleroi’, a new seventeen-minute work for four electric guitars and tape composed by Joanna Bailie. Examples of playing, pieces and general composer tone below…





 
Headlining, Italian composer and voltage-controlled-sequencer specialist Caterina Barbieri will perform a solo electronic set of her “ecstatic computation” music. Berlin-based, she explores “themes related to machine intelligence and object oriented perception in sound through a focus on minimalism” and “psycho-physical effects of repetition and pattern-based operations in music, by investigating the polyphonic and polyrhythmic potential of sequencers to draw severe, complex geometries in time and space.”

In practise, this is surprisingly accessible. Her work (including her recent ‘Patterns Of Consciousness’ album, composed entirely on Verbos Harmonic Oscillator and ER-101 Indexed Quad Sequencer) initially sounds closer to the pop-synth airiness of Kraftwerk or Tangerine Dream records from the ‘70s; even to the rhythmic clink of Larry Heard or the warm chitter of Jean-Michel Jarre. But even if there are similarities to ‘Pong’ or ‘Popcorn’ – especially live – this is merely a side effect of structure. Caterina’s work is intended as an austere examination of qualities: its primitive but plaintive blippery coming about due to her wish to avoid signature synth sounds, concentrating instead on careful shifts of accenture, attack and shaping on basic sine tones, accelerating and decelerating. The emotional content – like the unexpected danceability – apparently comes despite her intentions. Live, she fits right in with populist EM; sometimes, though, in the studio, she can come across as more raw, glitchy and forbidding. Perhaps in the tougher Kammer Klang environment, more of this side will will emerge.


 
* * * * * * * *

Information’s starting to come through on a defiantly heterogenous and diverse festival springing up in Stoke Newington towards the end of the month, delving into electroclassical and folk music forms, queerness, multiculturalism and the concept of English nationality in (and in spite of) ugly times. Details on this are still taking shape, so I’ll drop in what I’ve got now and add to it later, when I can…

The Old Church, The Nest Collective & others present:
‘What is England?’
The Old Church, Stoke Newington Church Street, Stoke Newington, London, N16 9ES, England,
20th-23rd April 2018, various times
– information here

'What Is England?', 20th-23rd April 2018“A four-day festival in the run up to St George’s Day, ‘What Is England?’ offers a chance for everyone to reimagine ‘Englishness’ in an inclusive, welcoming way, at a time when a toxic form of nationalism is on the rise.

“The festival includes the European debut of ‘The Good Immigrant’, an electroclassical song cycle for voice looper, sitar and electronics about race and identity by vocalist/composer Bishi. Co-produced with composer and sound designer Jeff Cook, the song cycle received its world premiere at The Ferus Festival in January 2018 in New York. The music is inspired by ‘The Good Immigrant’ by Nikesh Shukla, a collection of essays by 21 BAME writers, ruminating on race & identity in contemporary Britain. Each song is a response to a particular essay in the book, with special audio quotes sampled in from personal interviews conducted with writers Nikesh Shukla, Salena Godden and Darren Chetty, ending with a choral setting of Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Where The Mind is Without Fear’.

“In this work, Bishi takes a personal & intersectional journey reflecting on her experiences. As a British-Bengali daughter of immigrants, adopted by London’s community of alternative queer nightlife, she has lived through a unique cross-section of London’s contemporary urban landscape. ‘The Good Immigrant’ is a call to arms to explore our differences so that we may find more unity and empathy in a divided world. Having been trained in eastern and western classical music, and experienced performing in a Bulgarian choir, Bishi takes her influences from a variety of musical styles. Major musical influences include electronic producers Burial and Arca, and vocalists such as Meredith Monk and Lisa Gerrard.


 
“Also as part of the festival, modern folk initiative The Nest Collective presents a very special St George’s day involving established and merging talent in English folk, again looking at the idea of Englishness. Confirmed artists so far include Ansuman Biswas, Suna Alan and John Spiers.

“Believing that “music spreads throughout the environment like a perfume.. it soaks into the fabric of other things and people”, Ansuman is an Kolkata-born percussionist, interdisciplinary artist and composer who has been commissioned by Tate Modern, National Theatre, English Ballet and has worked with Bjork and the London Philharmonic Orchestra and in world music hybrid quartet Newanderthal (“four humans, three continents”). Suna is a Kurdish/Alevi singer based in London whose family moved to Smyrna (Izmir) in her early childhood (meaning that much of her formative years were spent surrounded by traditional Kurdish dengbêj music and Kurdish-Alevi laments within a rich cosmopolitan cultural environment). Her main focus is Kurdish folk songs from the four regions of Kurdistan, namely Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey, but her repertoire also includes Armenian, Greek, Sephardic and Turkish songs. John Spiers, known better in folk circles as Squeezy, has made a name for himself as one of the leading squeezebox players of his generation, playing with Eliza Carthy’s Ratcatchers band, Bellowhead and the duo Spiers and Boden (with Jon Boden).”




 
Rough details on the festival dates and events below: with panel events, DJs and an as-yet-unrevealed event for the Sunday slot, expect things to expand. With ‘The Quietus’ involved, I wouldn’t be surprised if a New Weird Britain strand began to weave its way into proceedings…

  • Friday 20 April, 7.00pm – festival launch: ‘The Good Immigrant’, plus NTS and The Quietus DJs and What Is England? panel eventtickets
  • Saturday 21 April, 10.30am – OPEN: Morning including “make-you-own-flag” event with OPEN:Art/Output Arts tickets
  • Saturday 21 April, 7.00pm – The Good Immigrant, with DJs and ‘The Good Nationalist?’ panel eventtickets
  • Sunday 22 April – details t.b.c.
  • Monday 23 April, 7.00pm – Nest Collective’s St George’s day event featuring Ansuman Biswas, Suna Alan, John Spiers and others t.b.c.tickets

 

April/May 2018 – solo tours in Britain/Europe for Kavus Torabi and Cosmo Sheldrake (4th April to 24th May various, with guest appearances from I See Rivers, Paul Morricone, Bunty, V Ä L V E, Peaks, Arch Garrison, Madilan, Stephen Evens, Bovril, Redbus Noface and May The Night Bless You With Heavenly Dreams)

25 Mar

It’s not exactly surprising that Kavus Torabi has finally gone solo. There’s too much hopeful, demanding inventiveness in him ever to submit entirely to the dynamics of a group, despite the fact that he’s currently got at least three on the go, most of them with him at the helm – the brassy lysergically-illuminated avant-pop of Knifeworld; the ritual instrumentalism of Guapo, and the cantering countercultural circus of Gong (transferred onto his lanky shoulders, history and all, following the 2015 death of Daevid Allen).

What’s more surprising is the direction he’s chosen for the first records under his own name (the new ‘Solar Divination’ EP and a full upcoming album for later in the year). A darker, more agrarian take on his psychedelic homeground, this time it’s drumless, bassless, hornless – rinsed clear of the capering squirrel energy he’s shown for twenty-odd years, in order to reveal muted, angsty bones. Mostly based around slow, smoky-lunged harmonium stretches and sparse flotsam drags of guitar chording, this is a more foreboding turn of song, haunted by deaths, loss and disintegrations. It’s never mopey or lachrymose, thank goodness (even in Knifeworld or The Monsoon Bassoon, Kavus knew how to undercut joyous tootling with passing shadows without souring the milk) but these new songs are overcast with sombre vulnerability: the gravel-grain in Kavus’ voice welling up from deeper, ghostlier territories than before.



 
Despite being a couple of decades younger than Kavus, Cosmo Sheldrake has been out on his own for a bit longer. It’s been four-and-a-half years since Cosmo put out anything as part of super-eclectic mongrel troupe Gentle Mystics, but during that time he’s been gently dabbing the release schedules with occasional singles, videos and EPs of his own. Earlier work brought some of the Mystics weird and charming vibe along with it: a homemade-toy, party-in-the-fairy-forest feeling, Cosmo lilting skewed nursery-rhyme verses over softly bouncing weaves of melody. In the videos, he came across as a generous digital troubadour on a set of meandering visitations, playing his lashed-up keyboards-and-tech assemblages for performances in model villages, truck beds, pigsties and fishing boats.

Byronic-looking but Branestawm-minded, Cosmo’s a shed-pop tinkerer and a baffling multi-instrumentalist with a mixed mystical/academic background. Part kid’s entertainer and part hippy-boffin, he has a shamanical nose for the margin between nonsense and connection. More recent efforts (trailing the imminent release of his debut album ‘The Much Much How How and I’) have seen chewier, pacier and poppier songs. The videos, meanwhile, have become an ingenious riot of increasingly theatrical, fantastical and sometimes macabre fabling in which foil monsters swim in canvas seas and giant fluffy headlice run amok. There’s a communal, childlike warmth to what he does: not perhaps a guileless wonder, but a sense of celebration, where fables and singalongs and misadventures become part of the accepted, useful junk with which we build our nests.



 
Kavus’ upcoming tour is a brief series of simmering April dots around England and Wales; Cosmo’s is a more leisurely, lengthy two-month loop, garlanding the British Isles and western Europe. They’re not sharing any shows, or even any venues. The only time they overlap in any respect is on the 25th of April, when they’re playing different but simultaneous one-man shows a stone’s throw apart in Bristol. It would be nice to think of them looking up midset on that one evening, peering across that city-central loop of the Avon, and nodding to each other. Not necessarily natural comrades but, in their way, parallel leywalkers. Each with a bit of Barrett in the back pocket, each with a peculiar charm of innocence, each with fingertips in the otherworldly and the mythic. The uncontainables…

Kavus’ tour also happens to be a chance to catch an intriguing spread of fellow musicians, reflecting the wide body of musical ideas and affinities he touches upon. While in Margate (squeezed into a former Victorian coach house transformed into the Japanese/Alpine cheese dream of a minature theatre), he lines up with two left-field folk acts: the organ-draped, ridge-walking green-chapel psychedelia of Arch Garrison and the mysterious brand-new “wonk-folk” of Bovril (featuring Tuung’s Mike Lindsay). In Birmingham, the bill sharer is Scaramanga Six songwriter Paul Morricone, providing gutsy acoustic songs of fear and brutality with lashing of dark Yorkshire humour. Paul and Kavus also reunite in York for the Tim Smith fundraiser Evening of Fadeless Splendour, alongside the off-kilter art rock of Redbus Noface and the sarcastic-bastard English songcraft of Stephen Gilchrist (a.k.a. Stephen Evens).




 
On his Manchester date, Kavus will be supported by Peaks (Ben Forrester, formerly of shouty slacker-punk duo Bad Grammar and Manc math-rock supertrio Gug, now performing “loop-driven emo pop”). In London, it’ll be V Ä L V E – once an avant-garde solo project (full of belches and found sounds, situational scoring and sound-art jokes) for Kavus’ Knifeworld bandmate Chloe Herington, now an increasingly ubiquitous three-woman live trio (evolved and evolving into a warm-hearted feminist/Fluxus/Rock In Opposition massing of harps, bassoon, punk bass and singalong bunker-folk). In Leeds, Kavus plays the quiet support act in a free gig for tintinnabulating Sheffield post-metallers May The Night Bless You With Heavenly Dreams (whose echoing tremstrumental pinings add a little magical shimmy to the usual doleful post-rock astronomy) and Bristolian experimental rockers Madilan (whose songs recall both the angst-shredded psychedelic night-journeys of Oceansize and also, in their spindly electronics and Autotuned vocal musing, post-Oceansize rocktronicists British Theatre).




 
In contrast, most of Cosmo’s dates are solo – possibly because once he’s unshipped his assorted instruments and gizmos (from euphoniums and banjos to loop pedals and pennywhistles), there’s not much room for anyone else in the dressing room. Nonetheless, support for eight of the European April dates comes from Liverpool-based Norwegian girl trio I See Rivers, who wed their outstanding and eerily resonant Scandinavian vocal harmonies, sunny dispositions and scanty guitar to their own balloon-light, touching folk-pop songs and to heart-thawing covers of Daughter (Medicine), George Ezra (Budapest), and Whitney Houston (‘80s wedding fave I Wanna Dance With Somebody).



 
For the London album launch for ‘The Much Much How How and I’, Cosmo and I See Rivers are joined by Bunty“multi-dimensional beat merchant and vocal juggler” Kassia Zermon. Also to be found fronting jazz/junk/folk trio Le Juki, co-fronting dub act Resonators, and co-running Brightonian experimental label Beatabet, Kassia’s run Bunty for years as a loopstation-based “one woman electro-orchestra” bolstered by her multi-instrumentalism and vivid imagination. Parallels with Cosmo are clear (the looping and beatboxing, a life blossoming with social art initiatives and therapeutic work beyond the entertainments) and she guests on one of the ‘Much Much’ tracks (very much an equal passing through, with a cheeky hug and a bit of upstaging), but her own vision is distinct. Giddier, jazzier, less directly English in its whimsy, with input from her Moroccan heritage and from her taste for Andy Kaufman; a slightly more cosmic playbox; imaginary languages; an undiluted Brightonian fabulosity.

Kassia’s last Bunty album, ‘Multimos’, was a pocket-sized multimedia event spanning apps, interactive AV, dream machines, audience choirs and gaming cues. Time and occasion will probably only allow a smidgin of that, this time around, but it’ll be a window onto her explosively colourful world.



 

* * * * * * * *

Kavus’ full tour dates:

 

Cosmo’s full tour dates:

  • More Human Than Human @ The Haunt, 10 Pool Valley, Brighton, BN1 1NJ, England, 4th April 2018, 7.00pm (+ I See Rivers) – information here and here
  • Village Underground, 54 Holywell Lane, Shoreditch, London, EC2A 3PQ, England, Thursday 5th April 2018, 7.30pm (album launch, with Bunty + I See Rivers) – information here and here
  • Soup Kitchen, 31-33 Spear Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester, M1 1DF, England, Friday 6th April 2018, 7.00pm (+ tbc) – information here and here
  • Headrow House, 19 The Headrow, LS1 6PU Leeds, Saturday 7th April 2018, 8.00pm – information here, here and here
  • Fluc + Fluc Wanne, Praterstern 5, 1020 Vienna, Austria, Austria, Monday 9th April 2018, 8.00pm (with I See Rivers) – information here and here
  • Feierwerk, Hansastr. 39-41, 81373 Munich, Germany, Tuesday 10th April 2018, 7.30pm (with I See Rivers) – information here and here
  • Artheater, Ehrenfeldgürtel 127, 50823 Cologne, Germany, Wednesday 11th April 2018, 8.00pm (with I See Rivers) – information
  • Molotow, Nobistor 14, 22767 Hamburg, Germany, Thursday 12th April 2018, 7.00pm (with I See Rivers) – information here and here
  • Lido, Cuvrystrasse 7, 10997 Berlin, Germany, Friday 13th April 2018, 8.00pm (with I See Rivers) – information here and here
  • Paradiso, Weteringschans 6-8, 1017SG Amsterdam, Netherlands, Tuesday 17th April 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Exchange, 72-73 Old Market Street, Bristol, BS2 0EJ, England, Wednesday 25th April 2018, 7.30pm (+ tbc) – information here and here
  • Ancienne Belgique, Anspachlaan 110, 1000 Brussels, Belgium, Friday 27th April 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Ninkasi Gerland Kafé, 267 Rue Marcel Mérieux, 69007 Lyon, France, Wednesday 2nd May 2018, 8.30pm – information here
  • Point Éphémère, 200 Quai de Valmy, 75010 Paris, France, Thursday 3rd May 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Unplugged in Monti @ Black Market Art Gallery, Via Panisperna 101, Rione Monti, 00184 Rome, Italy, Wednesday 9th May 2018, 7.00pm – information here
  • Serraglio, Via Gualdo Priorato 5, 20134 Milan, Italy, Thursday 10th May 2018, 9.00pm – information here and here
  • Freakout Club, Via Emilio Zago, 7c, 40128 Bologna, Italy, Friday 11th May 2018, 9.00pm – information here
  • The Hug and Pint, 171 Great Western Road, Glasgow, G4 9AW, Scotland, Tuesday 22nd May 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • The Globe, 125 Albany Road, Cardiff, CF24 3PE, Wales, Wednesday 23rd May 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Plug, Sheffield, Thursday 24th May 2018, 7.30pm – information here, here and here

 

March 2018 – London classical gigs – composers fresh from the Royal Academy of Music (20th); an International Women’s Day event for London Composers Forum (8th March); an evening with the Ligeti Quartet and cyberpianist John Kameel Farah (14th March); ‘Rise Of The Machines’ at the Converge Festival fuses classical music and artificial intelligence (18th March)

21 Feb

London Academy of Music: Composer's Platform, 20th March 2018Late in March, the composition department of the Royal Academy of Music makes its way over to IKLEKTIC for “an evening of cutting edge new music, specially written for academy performers. The concert will showcase a hugely diverse range of musical influences. Come along and hear new music from the next generation of composers.” No names have been announced yet… but then, that’s part of the point. Come and be in at the start of some new careers.

Just under two weeks earlier, the London Composers Forum will be running a Composer’s Voice event for March, coinciding with International Women’s Day, with a concept which speaks for itself:

The Composer's Voice (IWD), 8th March 2018“This concert will feature exclusively new live and recorded music composed by the female members of LCF, performed by women. With a mixture of choral, vocal and instrumental pieces, it is sure to be full of variety and interest.

“There will be a discussion on the theme of “music by women” between the composers and performers that we hope the audience will participate in also; and an opportunity to discuss several hot topics relating to IWD, music by women, parity and what happens next…”

The LCF IWD event is free and open to all. Forum composers involved and represented are Janet Oates (director of and participant in the Philomel soprano sextet), wind multi-instrumentalist Liz Sharma, Miriam Mackie (founder of Illumination Chamber Choir), experimental performer and Bastard Assignments cohort Caitlin Rowley, singer/actor/songwriter Jane de Florez, Zillah Myers (a member of and repertoire contributor to The Addison Singers who’s also composed for Bude Choral Society) and Pamela Slatter (who’s composed for the London Concert Choir and, more recently, has set Edward Lear’s ‘The Pobble Who Has No Toes’).

Royal Academy of Music presents:
Royal Academy of Music: Composer’s Platform
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Tuesday 20th March 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

London Composers Forum presents
The Composer’s Voice: Music and Discussion for IWD 2018
Tea House Theatre, 139 Vauxhall Walk, Vauxhall, London, SE11 5HL, England
Thursday 8th March 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

* * * * * * * *

Taking a break from performing on ice sculptures and space shuttles in favour of a pub backroom, the Ligeti Quartet have set up a regular monthly gig with Nonclassical in Dalston, to showcase contemporary exploratory string music.

Ligeti Quartet + John Kameel Farah, 14th March 2018

Nonclassical presents:
Ligeti Quartet + John Kameel Farah
The Victoria, 451 Queensbridge Road, Hackney, London, E8 3AS, England
Wednesday 14th March 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here

This March, they’ll be presenting the European premiere of Anna Meredith’s ‘Tuggemo’), as well as performances of Kate Whitley’s ‘Lines’, Christian Mason‘s ‘Eki Attar’ and Tanya Tagaq‘s ‘Sivunittinni’ (as originally rendered by the Kronos Quartet, with the strings emulating Tagaq’s barrage of Inuit vocal effects via an array of frictional and percussive bow techniques devised by arranger Jacob Garchik).

Here’s a clip of the Ligetis performing an earlier Meredith work, plus the original Kronos performance of ‘Sivunittinni’, an earlier Kate Whitley strings-and-piano piece, and Christian Mason’s ‘Aimless Wonder’.



 
The Ligetis’ guest on this occasion is a pianist – Canadian musician John Kameel Farah, who surrounds and combines his piano playing with an array of synthesizers and processors which filter, warp and orchestrate his performance, which itself allies contemporary classical music with baroque, electronic, Early Music and Middle Eastern elements.

John will be premiering his new composition ‘Spinning Thread’ as well as drawing four more pieces from his back catalogue and from recent album ‘Time Sketches’ (‘Fantasia’, ‘Distances’, ‘Behold’ and ‘Maqam Constellation’) plus a performance of William Byrd’s ‘Hugh Ashton’s Ground’.



 
DJ sets will be provided by Ben Vince (a musician better known for his frenetic sets of improv/loop saxophone playing).

* * * * * * * *

More Nonclassical DJs (in the shape of Laurence Osborn and others) and more technological approaches and motifs will be showing up for the last of the four events covered in this post. While much of this year’s Convergence festival leans towards avant-garde pop artists with a foot in the contemporary classical world (John Cale, Kamaal Williams, Ben Frost, Simian Mobile Disco and Charlotte Gainsbourg are all appearing over the course of the month), the second in the festivals’s ‘Rise Of The Machines’ concert series takes a witty but serious look at the ongoing crossover between classical music and computer/systems thinking.

Convergence: Rise Of The Machines #2, 18th March 2018

Convergence 2018 presents:
‘Convergence: Rise Of The Machines #2’
Village Underground, 54 Holywell Lane, Shoreditch, London, EC2A 3PQ, England
Sunday 18th March 2018, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

Conductor Jessica Cottis (who also contributed to the City of London Sinfonia’s ‘Modern Mystics’ series last year) will be leading a thirty-piece orchestra, bolstered by live devices operated by members of Langham Research Centre (who maintain vintage electronic instruments in order both to safeguard the performance of 20th century classic electronic repertoire and to apply “period electronica” to newer compositions). Composers Beni Giles, Laurence Osborn, Josephine Stephenson, Jo Thomas and Max de Wardener have all collaborated on the event’s world premiere centrepiece, ‘Concerto for Drum Machine & Orchestra’, each of them contributing one of five movements to a composition which “places the drum machine centre-stage as solo musical instrument, bringing the sounds of dance music and hip-hop to the classical world.” Plenty of young and youngish contemporary composers have attempted to bring forms inspired by rave, techno, house into New Classical. As far as I know, this is the first such piece to surrender entirely to the primacy of beat and box.

In Nick Ryan and John Matthias’ violin-and-string-ensemble piece ‘Cortical Songs’ “the orchestra is partially controlled by the neural patterns of a tiny computer brain. The resultant work takes the orchestra into an ethereal sound world of lush strings juxtaposed with the skittering crackles of neural activity.” Magnus Lindberg ’s ‘Engine’ (which dates back to 1996) “(was) inspired by the computing language associated with using the Patchwork1 programme. ‘Engine’ is a sort of generator of musical material, which operates according to the rules pre-established by the composer. The texture is composed by the machine, on which the composer imposes dozens of constraints.” Finally, Barry Guy’s 2015 piece ‘Mr Babbage is Coming to Dinner!’ “was inspired by Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine No. 2… The graphic score – hand-drawn and partially coloured by Barry Guy – is a work of art in itself (and) calls on spontaneity and improvisation from the orchestra.”

I tracked down a couple of previous performances of ‘Engine’ and ‘Cortical Songs’ for illustration, so here they are:



 

February 2018 – upcoming London experimental gigs – Filthy Lucre’s “night of imagined languages” featuring Claude Vivier, Laurence Osborn, Hildegard of Bingen, Bowie’s Berlin and Byrne’s babble (24th February)

10 Feb

Filthy Lucre, 24th February 2018

Filthy Lucre presents:
Filthy Lucre: “Lingua Inota – A Night of Imagined Languages”
Hackney Showroom @ Hackney Downs Studios, 13-15 Amhurst Terrace, Hackney Downs, London, E8 2BT, England
Saturday 24th February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

“Every song in the night uses invented languages to express the things that real words can’t touch… The divinity of nonsense has served, like music, to say the unsayable. Whether associated with religious ecstasy or utopian projects, these utterances are inscrutable yet intimate.”

For a while now, freewheeling concert/club night/collective Filthy Lucre (run by composer Joe Bates, clarinettist Anthony Friend and composer/conductor William Cole) have been putting together events “tied together by artistic concepts, such as cultic rituals and urban sprawl.” I’ve not caught up with them before now, but this event’s an ideal opportunity to get a feel for how they think.

Incorporating chamber choir and synthesisers, the Filthy Lucre ensemble will be performing ‘Glaubst du an die Unsterblichkeit der Seele? (Do You Believe In The Immortality Of The Soul?)’ the final, morbidly romantic langue inventée work from renegade Canadian composer Claude Vivier (infamously found in manuscript form on his desk in the aftermath of his murder, which it seemed to predict in its envisioning of a narrator stabbed in the heart by a potential lover). Also in place on the bill will be an exploration of the original lingua ignota of visionary theologian, polymath and composer Hildegard of Bingen (she of the hallucinatory Christian visions and the remarkable command of twelfth century experience from its musicality to its medicine, its theological orientations to the outer fringes of its philosophy).

In addition, Filthy Lucre will be tackling the “nonsense” of the David Bowie/Brian Eno collaboration ‘Warszawa‘ (born from Bowie’s blind phonetic transcriptions of Polish folk song) and the “electric babble” of Talking Heads. I guess they could mean the band’s pulsing Afrodelic loft-music setting of Hugo Ball’s ‘Gadji beri bimba’ (from ‘Fear Of Music’) but it could extend to any of David Byrne’s chopped songtexts – in particular, those on 1980’s haunted, free-form-sermonizing ‘Remain In Light’ and its funk’n’free-association follow-up ‘Speaking In Tongues’ (which could also have lent its name to the event).

There will also be new music by Laurence Osborn (‘ELITE’, scored for tenor, keyboard, two synthesizers and tape), art by Georgia Hicks (inspired by the illustrated manuscripts of Hildegard’s visions, which depict reality as a wheel) and a Hildegard-themed film by Paul Vernon. Various musical arrangements come courtesy of event coordinator Joe Bates himself, and from Emma-Jean Thackray.

Some examples of what’s on offer or what might be propelling the thoughts behind it can be found below…




 
(Update – 19th February 2018 – have just been able to share the Paul Vernon Hildegard trailer too. Looks as if music by Xenakis and Cocteau Twins has been added to the brew…)


 

February-March 2018 – music and more from across the European borderlands and migrations, as part of the ‘Marchland’ performance season in London (various dates between 7th February and 3rd March) including KultNett, Sefiroth, Carneval String Trio, Åkervinda, Nikos Baroutsakis, Maiden In The Moor, Shiry Rashkovsky, Fran & Flora and Bardos Band…

1 Feb

Sprawling out over a long month between early February and early March, Théâtre Volière’s Marchland performance season will transform the City of London’s Bridewell Theatre into a recreation of “a secluded European theatre” aiming – via discussion and performance, music and acting, photography, discussion and art – “to explore what it means to be European today… everything that is good and bad about the human response to being pushed up against “otherness”…. (to) come together to share and unpick these European stories in an attempt to answer the question, “how do we live together?”…” Slipping in under the frowning threat of a hard, bruising Brexit and the rising of surly, xenophobic British fences, it’s a welcome and timely thing.

In principle, ‘Marchland’ is theatrical. Threaded through the season are performances of Volière’s own ‘Arnika’ dealing with the corrosive effects of dreadful secrets and guilt, post-Nazi occupation, in an Alsace town (exemplifying “the tragic choices forced on a border community trapped in a cycle of international vengeance” and of its quadralingual companion piece ‘Retour au pays‘, “exploring the multi-lingualism of border regions and its effect on their cultures” via the story of Alsatian poet Andre Weckmann and his journey – as a forced military draftee – through the Wehrmacht, the Russian front and the Free French). Also on offer are two pieces by La Soupe Compagnie: ‘Macao et Cosmage‘ (their headphone-driven children’s tale of colonialism – “part Japanese kamishabaï paper theatre, part pop-up storybook” – performed in a tiny twelve-person booth), and their poetry-and-puppetry-incorporating ‘Evocation’, a transposition of ‘Pierrot Lunaire’ (Albert Giraud’s Symbolist poem-cycle of conscious, candid estrangement and displacement) to a Victorian-era Brighton Beach where it’s fed through the experience and cyclic memories of a traumatised young female refugee (scored by electro-acoustic composer Antoine Arlot). There’ll also be a festival-spanning interactive attempt (featuring the combined efforts of Marchlands artists and audience) to create and represent a borderland country of the imagination.

Yet – point for point and performer for performer – the majority of the festival is musical, bringing together a fascinating sweep of players from across Europe and interspersing them with British musicians exploring transcontinental roots and history (whether these are their own – as in the case of British-based Sephardic ensemble Sefiroth – or where their curiosity, studies and sympathies have led them.

Here’s a breakdown of the musical events, condensed from various bits of the programme text.

Carneval String Trio

Carneval String Trio

Carneval String Trio (made up of violinist Kamila Bydlowska, viola player Shiry Rashkovsky and cellist Timothée Botbol) have created a fascinating programme of twentieth-century music for us. Vanished kingdoms and shifting borders here, in an Eastern Europe where identities and allegiances were torn apart under the most savage circumstances imaginable.

“They’ll be playing pieces by Zoltán Kodály, Ernő Dohnányi and Gideon Klein, works that shock and mesmerize in equal measure. Each of these composers used folkloric themes to express their unique national identities, and yet these identities were rewritten for them many times as borders shifted and ideologies fought over their homelands. This is music that challenges us to ask “what is left of our identity when it is warped and usurped by the forces of nationalism?”

“The cultural and political history of the former Yugoslavia features large in this year’s ‘Marchland’. Greek guitarist Nikos Baroutsakis joins the conversation with a recital of music from the Balkans and the wider region, where Europe meets the Middle East. He’ll be playing pieces inspired by the folk culture of Armenia, the Balkans (including the former Yugoslavia) and Turkey.

“Carlo Domeniconi’s Variations on ‘Uzun İnce Bir Yoldayım (I’m On A Long Narrow Road)’ – a Turkish folk song of pain and suffering – opens the programme. It is followed by four traditional Armenian dances arranged for guitar by Iakovos Kolanian. Finally, a rare performance of Dusan Bogdanovic’s ‘Six Balkan Miniatures’, composed for and dedicated to, world peace during the Yugoslavian Civil War.


 
Fran & Flora are cellist Francesca Ter-Berg and violinist Flora Curzon. BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction described them as fiercely passionate and a string duo bound for glory, and that says it all about their approach to music making and their musical influences. For ‘Marchland’, they will be exploring musical styles from Eastern Europe, and how they are influenced by ongoing exchanges and tensions across borders and migrating communities. Expect soulful laments, exquisite songs, irresistible dance tunes, and tales of their musical adventures as outsiders intent on incorporating traditional music-making into their own, unique style.


 
“In addition, they’ll also perform in a double bill of music and conversation with Nikos Baroutsakis (extending their programme, their distinctive music-making interspersed with anecdotes and insights from their musicological travels in the Balkans) and, in another event, pairing up with Alex Batesmith’s dramatised talk ‘Blackbirds and Blue Helmets’ (about his experiences as a UN war crimes prosecutor in Kosovo and his travels in the former Yugoslavia).

Bardos Band

Bardos Band

“We were keen to programme work for ‘Marchland’ that explores the way culture is transformed as it crosses borders. ‘The Oak of Two Greens’ (from mediaeval music specialists Bardos Band, combining the talents of Sophia Brumfitt, Rebecca Austen-Brown, Corinna Silvester, Arngeir Hauksson and Leah Stuttard) shows us that this is an ancient and ongoing process.

“This is a melting-pot of rare and deeply-affecting music, woven around an ancient folktale. A resourceful harper charms his audience to sleep in order to steal their magical harp – The Oak of Two Greens. The harp belongs to the king of the Tuatha da Dannan; a legendary tribe which, according to legend, brought music to Ireland. Bardos Band follow the route this music might have travelled, using voice, harp, medieval fiddle, gittern, flutes and symphony to create an enchanting wash of sound.”

(Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any embeddable examples of the Bardos’ treatment of ‘The Oak Of Two Greens’, but it’s close enough to Christmas for me to offer you this…)


 
“The Bardos Band’s Sophia Brumfitt and Leah Stuttard also make up the early-music due Maiden In The Moor. For their own ‘Marchlands’ performance they’re reviving the music of Occitania, a vanished kingdom that once straddled Southern France and Northern Spain.

Maiden In The Moor

Maiden In The Moor

“The Occitan Troubadours sang of loyalty, love and longing, and their language and music survived through travelling poets and illuminated songbooks long after their culture was devastated by the Albigensian Crusade. Their work had a profound influence on European music and culture, and echoes of it can be heard in lieder, folk music, and the work of the singer-songwriters of our own time. The programme includes Troubadour and Trouvère songs, songs from the courts of Aquitaine and the Languedoc, and Spanish pilgrim songs.”

(Although there’s not much Maiden In The Moor material online, here’s an example of Occitan songcraft…)


 

“Norway’s KultNett bring together some of the foremost folk musicians and storytellers from beyond the Arctic Circle to examine the history of the peoples of Northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and Sápmi, the land of the Sámi people. Storytelling, a fast and furious fiddle and the traditional ‘joik’ of the Sámi are interwoven to create a performance that explores and interrogates the dynamics of cultural and ethnic hegemony in the Nordic region of Europe.


 

Ignacio Evangelista: 'After Schengen'

Ignacio Evangelista: ‘After Schengen’

“Adapted especially for Marchland and illustrated by a multi-media presentation, this is a truly immersive experience; a rare insight into a rich and vibrant borderland culture from the Northernmost reaches of Europe. They’ll also play in a separate double bill with Bardos Band, presenting an extended version of their Marchland programme.

“Inspired by Ignacio Evangelista’s photography sequence ‘After Schengen’, we brought together three artists to create an interdisciplinary event, ‘Before and After Schengen’, exploring the politics and the poetry around notions of the vanishing border.

Shiry Rashkovsky

Shiry Rashkovsky

“In front of a screening of his work, Ignacio will be talking about his fascination with Europe’s disused border posts. His talk will be interwoven with poems by Hungarian-born poet George Szirtes, written in response to Ignacio’s images and read by George himself. The whole will be framed by a unique performance of musical fragments and improvisations devised by Carneval String Trio violist Shiry Rashkovsky (also an associate member of the Philharmonia Orchestra).

This is a truly international collaboration that encapsulates perfectly the spirit of ‘Marchland’). Expect to find yourselves pondering the ephemeral and often arbitrary nature of borders. ‘Before and After Schengen’ will also be performed as a separate double bill with another extended performance of Kultnett’s ‘Sound of the Arctic’.


 
Sefiroth is an international collective of musicians founded by brothers Nick and Alex Roth to explore traditional Sephardic repertoire. music from the descendants of the Jews who left Spain or Portugal after 1492. Sung in Ladino (a language primarily spoken by Sephardic Jews), these ancient songs weave stories of love, loss and yearning for home, and evoke the lands where the diaspora settled: Iberia, the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

“The group’s arrangements are as porous and wide-ranging as the history of the Sephardim, combining acoustic and electric instruments, improvisation, modern harmonies and trance-inducing rhythms. They’ll also be performing separately alongside Maiden In The Moor in a double bill; setting the revived music of a vanished culture alongside the living, evolving traditions of a banished people.


 
“Sweden and Denmark’s Åkervinda perform their unique, modern Scandinavian folksongs. Jazz singers at heart, and influenced by artists such as Björk and The Real Group, they share a deep love of folk music. Through improvisation, they breathe new life into traditional songs, singing stories of women through the ages in a programme of haunting harmonies and dazzling improvisations inspired by women’s history and the shifting populations of Europe. Their appearance at Marchland marks the opening of a UK tour and the release of their latest album. They’ll also be performing in a separate double bill with Maiden In The Moor.


 
“What can we say about our show ‘A Vanished Kingdom’? Not much, since it’s actually mostly your show and you’ve yet to devise it! Come and help make a season-long, open-access interdisciplinary event to be presented on the closing day of the season.

“On three consecutive Saturdays we’ll be meeting to create our own Vanished Kingdom – an imaginary borderland with its own culture, geography, history, language… All devised by you. If you’re a visual artist, writer or performer, if you’re someone who wants to share ideas in a supportive and respectful environment, if you’re someone who enjoys playing and make believe, then join us and artists from the Marchland season to help make something truly unique. You are welcome to come and go as you please for the duration of each workshop, and even to just quietly observe the controlled chaos! It’s completely free to participate.

On the 3rd March, we’ll be presenting the audience with a free ‘Vanished Kingdom’ event featuring the stories, songs, dances, artwork, history, geography of a European borderland of our participants’ collective imagination. As an opener to the presentation, there’ll be another chance to hear a performance by Åkervinda (giving us their perspective on women’s history and cross border co-operation) plus a one-off set from three members of Sefiroth (Alex Roth, Alice Zawadzki & Olesya Zdorovetska).

“Expect, perhaps, robust and lively debate about the tensions between regional identity and cross-cultural fertilisation, absurd flights of fancy and charming anecdotes, and a rich tapestry of differing viewpoints and traditions. Looking forward to meeting you at the crossroads!”

All events are at The Bridewell Theatre, 14 Bride Lane, Blackfriars, London EC4Y 8EQ, England. Dates are as follows.

Single concerts:

  • Carneval String Trio – Wednesday 7th & Wednesday 14th February 2018, 1:15pm
  • Nikos Baroutsakis – Thursday 8th February 2018, 1:15pm
  • Fran & Flora – Friday 9th February 2018, 1:15pm
  • KultNett’s ‘Sound of the Arctic’ – Friday 9th February 2018, 7:30pm; Tuesday 13th February 2018, 1:15pm; 16th February 2018, 1:15pm; 17th February 2018, 9:00pm
  • Bardos Band’s ‘The Oak of Two Greens’ – Monday 12th February 2018, 1:15pm
  • Before and After Schengen – Thursday 15th February 2018, 1:15pm
  • Sefiroth – Friday 16th February 2018, 7:30pm; Saturday 17th February 2018, 2:00pm; Friday 23rd February 2018, 7:30pm
  • Maiden in The Moor – Wednesday 28th February 2018, 1:15pm
  • Åkervinda – Friday 2nd March 2018, 1:15 pm

Double-bill concerts:

  • Nikos Baroutsakis + Fran & Flora – Saturday 10th February 2018, 2:00pm
  • Bardos Band’s ‘The Oak of Two Greens’ + KultNett’s ‘Sound of the Arctic’ – Saturday 10th February 2018, 7:30 pm
  • ‘Before and After Schengen’ + KultNett’s ‘Sound of the Arctic’ – Thursday 15th February 2018, 7:30 pm
  • Alex Batesmith’s ‘Blackbirds and Blue Helmets’ + Fran & Flora – Tuesday 20th February 2018, 7:30 pm
  • Maiden in the Moor + Sefiroth – Thursday 22nd February 2018, 7:30 pm
  • Åkervinda + Maiden in The Moor – Thursday 1st March 2018, 7:30 pm

‘A Vanished Kingdom’:

  • Free-entry workshops – Saturday 10th February 2018, 9.30am; Saturday 24th Feburary 2018, 2.00pm, Saturday 3rd March 2018, 10.00am
  • Presentation concert (plus pre-concert performances by Åkervinda + Alex Roth/Alice Zawadzki/Olesya Zdorovetskaya) – Saturday 3rd March 2018, 2:00 pm


All further details at the festival website, the Marchland Facebook page and the Bridewell event pages, with blogging here throughout the course of the season.
 

Marchland logo
 

February/March 2018 – Minute Taker mini-tour of England with Runes (2nd, 3rd, 10th, 17th February); Holly Penfield’s rescheduled Fragile Human Monster dates in London (23rd February, 23rd March); Joss Cope and Emily Jones in Worthing (2nd February)

26 Jan


 
Ben McGarvey, better known as ambient-torch-y folktronicist Minute Taker is heading out on a brief February tour taking in a brace of Saturdays, a Friday and four of the country’s more impressive churches. It’s in support of his new mini-album ‘Reconstruction‘ which he claims reflects “the search for new improved ways of rebuilding yourself when your world has been blown apart.”

Ben’s last pair of tours were more directly theatrical multi-media affairs, fleshing out the doppelganger/ghost story of ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ with tie-in animations, strings and extra guitars. This time, it’s just him – piano, looped harmonies, distorted Eastern-influenced percussion parts, glockenspiel and synths. In addition to the slow dream-jazz-styled songs from ‘Reconstruction’, he’ll be playing rearranged songs from ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ and his previous albums ‘Too Busy Framing’ and ‘Last Things’, plus some rethought-out cover versions from his various influences. Expect an atmosphere of drawn-out, deliciously lovelorn confessions and self-realisations set to luscious, trembling tunes, each with a core of silver-wire determination.


 
Also along for the ride is Greek-turned-Mancunian singer-songwriter Harry Selevos, a.ka. Runes, who has two albums of dreamy cherubic pop behind him – 2015’s ‘Orphic’ and the 2017 OP3 collaboration ‘AWSS’, sublimating his classical piano training via Asian-influenced vocals, a near-ambient synth pulse and a blissful energy (ending up somewhere between Jimmy Somerville and Mark Hollis).


 
Dates:

Prior to the tour, Ben will be performing a couple of live-streamed concerts from home via his Facebook page on Sunday 28th January. The first, at 7.30pm, is a general one with a Q&A session; it will be followed by a bonus session for his Secret Facebook Group covering the ‘Secret Songs’ album series in which he explores cover versions and reinventions.

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Live At Zedel/Crazy Coqs presents:
Holly Penfield: ‘Fragile Human Monster’
Brasserie Zédel, 20 Sherwood Street, Soho, London W1F 7ED, England
Friday 23rd February & Friday 23rd March 2018, 9.15pm
– information here and here

The last Minute Taker tour, in October last year, coincided with Holly Penfield scheduling time out from her ongoing reign as jazz-cabaret queen and camp icon in order to return to the ‘Fragile Human Monster’ show she’d spun into a strange and shamanic synth-pop cult-of-the-broken during the early ‘90s. Back in October – and earlier – I wrote about how the old show had a “compelling and bizarre Californian theatrical edge which variously sat in your lap and purred, wailed over your head, broke down in front of you, or made you feel less alone – always in the same set” and about how “being a member of Holly’s audience meant being enticed into shedding those cloaks of cynicism and reserve we use to insulate ourselves, and opening your heart up to the rawest kind of sympathy and honesty. The show became a part of us, as much as we were a part of it, the church of the misfits she embraced. We dropped our guard, she sang: a voice for our odd angles and our visceral fears… If you led with your sense of cool, or your cynicism, there was no chance. But at full tilt, it was unmatchable.”

Holly Penfield, 23rd February & 23rd March 2018Both ‘Fragile Human Monster’ and its related ‘Parts Of My Privacy’ album had been a second-stage reaction to Holly’s previous career as a blow-dried Los Angeles rock starlet (during which, in classic fashion, she’d been sidelined, ground up and spat out by the dream machine). Both had starred Holly alone but for the saxophone and suss of her partner and husband Ian Ritchie and for the evocative night-time sound of her Kurzweil sampler-keyboard. Over these, she spilled her self-composed, gloriously-sung narratives and metaphorical fantasias of collapse, vulnerability, madness and healing like an obsessive, loving, slightly deranged blurring-together of Laurie Anderson, Jane Siberry and Pat Benatar; framed by a stage set of trinkets and keepsakes which assumed the magical associations of a voodoo shrine – or, as I put it previously, “a travelogue of places been, of people touched and gifts given and received.”

It was the kind of gig into which, whether performer or audience member, you had to throw your whole self… and in turn it eventually flamed out, eventually making way for Holly’s camper (yet straighter) third stage as a knowingly decadent flaunt-it-all singer-performer of jazz and torch standards, commanding top-notch acoustic bands. It’s that latter stage that finally made her name – yet some of the willing therapeutic madness of FHM has always been present in those slinks through Fever and I Wanna Be Evil, the wigs and costume changes, the brassy fragility and the phenomenal voice. (Back in California, Holly had shared a voice coach with Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Junior. It showed.)

It wasn’t clear what was impelling Holly to bring the old show back; nor whether she was resurrecting the synths and sequencers and ditching the jazz quartet and feather boas. In any case, it was promptly derailed by her surprise leather-clad showing on ‘The X-Factor’ in full-on kook mode, teasing Simon Cowell with a riding crop during the auditions phase. She did get a market-friendly Cowell soundbite out of that – “a cross between David Bowie and Liza Minnelli” – to go with her Tim Rice citation (“more than one fine diva – she’s a whole host of them, and they all look wonderful and sound sensational”) but it also meant that the planned Vauxhall Tavern FHM shows got showbizzed, and abruptly morphed into the familiar jazz cabaret albeit with a Halloween tinge. Escape velocity lost and an opportunity missed, even if some of the FHM songs still got stirred into the mix.

Now she’s rescheduled the Monster for a couple of dates at the swish London Zedel eaterie: a luxuriant art-deco cabaret capsule. Again, not much about how she’s going to do it, or how much habit and setting is going to shape instrumentation and presentation, but I’m hoping that after last year’s false alarm this will be the real deal, and that whatever twenty years away have added to the show’s energies will add to the spice. Sadly, there’s nothing directly from the Monster on Youtube – and nothing of ‘Parts of My Privacy’ – so instead I’ll have to whet appetites one of the more Monsterous moments from the cabaret show, an excellent new number Holly posted up the other year (like a Bowie torch song for the American dream), and an FHM ballad in its original glossy LA-pop ’80s garb before Holly pared it back to an art-pop synth shimmer.




 
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Musica Lumini presents:
Joss Cope + Emily Jones
The Cellar Arts Club, (basement of) 70 Marine Parade, Worthing, West Sussex, BN11 3QB, England
Friday 2nd February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here

Joss Cope + Emily Jones, 2nd February 2018It’s always nice to hear about a new venue, pushing back against the swelling tides of blandness and land-banking; and Worthing’s Cellar Arts Club must be a godsend for the more inquisitive characters who live in Brighton’s smaller, sleepier cousin town. I say “new”, but in fact it’s been in existence for nearly a year – a small, sprightly co-op effort providing music, poetry, stand-up, discussion and small-scale theatre and film showings. This February, it celebrates a small coup in pulling in both Joss Cope and Emily Jones for a concert.

Any discussions of Joss inevitably involve invoking (and then quelling) the shadow of his big brother – Julian Cope, the ‘80s psych-pop chart star and holy fool who spent the next three decades evolving into a garage-rock pagan shaman, a looming Archdrude and more recently a heathen-folk Biker of Ragnarok. So here I go… While there are a few shared traits (a sibling similarity in tone, including the Midlands yawp that occasionally cuts through their middle-class diction; their West Coast way with a melody; their tendency to move from proclaimer to informal intimate in a heartbeat by slipping a conversational twist into a driving lyric) they more often sound like two boys who heard the same records but went away having heard and learned different things. For all of his anarchic ways, whenever Cope the Elder yomps off on his Odinist trip, dooms Christianity or tries to brain-bugger you into enlightenment with 12-strings and Mellotrons, he always seems anxious to please, impose and impress; to garner attention from (and for) his assorted upendings and derailments. More outrightly affable, Joss may have come along on some of Julian’s musical trips, but his own are more relaxed and chatty, drawn from the confidence of one who takes more pleasure in the deft shapework of being a craftsman than in being a noisy prophet of the heath.


 
Ever since his emergence thirty-odd years ago (with short-lived bands such as Freight Train Something Pretty Beautiful and United States Of Mind), Joss has brought Cope-ular bounce and chattiness to the acid wistfulness and garage grooves. Since then, apart from a longer stint with counter-pop collective deXter Bentley, it’s been mostly innumerable multi-instrumental pick-up collaborations between Brighton and London (from Sergeant Buzfuz to Crayola Lectern). However, with last year’s ‘Unrequited Lullabies’ (recorded in Joss’ part-time home of Helsinki with a set of amenable Finnish musicians including Veli-Pekka Oinonen of the Leningrad Cowboys) he’s unveiled an album where his own voice comes clear to the surface. A luscious living-room tranche of psych-pop with a sharp wit; dappled with dextrous pop guitars, carousel prog, fake horns and laps of Mellotron, it also shows that there’s more than enough in Joss’ songwriting to ensure that it’s worth listening to him even if he just rocks up alone with an acoustic guitar. With a delivery not too far off the drowsy cut-glass musings of Guy Chadwick (and travelling through similar musical territories to or the Robyn Hitchcock or The Monochrome Set, although he’s less frivolous than either), he provides deceptive sunny reflections on our currently souring culture with its intolerance, its blame-shifting and the growing poisoning of discourse (“fell voices charm the crowd and there’s a bill for everything / Heard the claim that destiny was waiting in the wings… / Gotta get out of this cauldron before it starts to boil / there’s the frog and the kettle, pour on toxic oil”). At the same time, he’s got a healthy disregard for the idea of singer as preacher – admitting, in Cloudless Skies, that “the truth is understated, there’s no reality to be debated, / but no-one wants to hear that in a song.”

So far, the singer-songwriter work of Truronian hinterland-folkie Emily Jones (daughter of cult sixties folk singer and instrument inventor Al Ashworth-Jones) has rambled across two albums and a collection of Bandcamp oddments. In these pages, she’s mostly shown up in connection with the regular support slots she’s played backing up the Spratleys Japs revival. Opening for Joss should provide a bit more of a window for getting across her own particular songview, which layers ancient drone-lays and Sandy Denny musings with latterday and merges ancient folk tropes with latterday horrorfolk tales and strands of modern rurality, in particular the mystical fraying of reality that comes with too much time alone in a remote cottage. Picking at her songbook reveals the makings of an intriguing psych-folk visionary, with stories of strange transformations, blurrings and exchanges (from her recasting of traditional selkie tales to the peculiar trash-moth creature that flits through Hermegant And Maladine to her musings on the supernatural interplay of housework, psychic memories and ghost-hopes in Pieces Of People).




 

February 2018 – upcoming London classical gigs – assorted songwork with London Composer’s Forum’s ‘Art Of The Song’ (2nd February), Mimi Doulton’s ‘Focus: Solo Voice’ (13 February); and ‘Songwriters of 2018’ (20th February)

18 Jan

Various vocally-slanted classical gigs for the coming month, with an emphasis on various kinds of songcraft.

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London Composer’s Forum presents:
Tea House Theatre, 139 Vauxhall Walk, Vauxhall, London, SE11 5HL, England
Friday 2nd February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here, here and here

London Composers Forum: The Art Of Song, 2nd February 2018“In this concert London Composers Forum composers will explore the many and varied aspects of the art song, with solo and ensemble vocal pieces on a wide variety of themes accompanied by a chamber ensemble of wind and strings.”

“Vocal music, which may have begun as an accessory to the dance in remote antiquity, is probably the oldest branch of the art of music. At a later time, bards and troubadours developed the art to commemorate heroic exploits and heroes’ deaths, and minstrels, with their songs of love both innocent and erotic, contributed another genre. During the course of the twentieth century, with the assistance of broadcasting and the record industry, the art of song proliferated into many styles. There are good and bad examples in all of these, but on the whole, there has been a regrettable tendency to ignore the art and craftsmanship in the process.

“The aim of this venture is to write songs for an evening’s general entertainment and to demonstrate that the art of good song-writing never died. Nine musicians will provide the accompaniment to a variety of original and colourful songs, especially written for the occasion. Come, with your friends, and enjoy the music in the ambient atmosphere of the Tea House, where food will be served until 10pm and drinks until midnight. See you there!”

Among the works performed will be David Arditti’s ‘Chamber Music’ (a song cycle setting of James Joyce, sung by tenor Ezra Williams and now orchestrated for a larger chamber ensemble) and Laurence Glazier‘s ‘Smartphone Aria’. There will also be new songs by Denis Betro, Jane de Florez, Peter Openshaw, Pamela Slater, John Holland, Liz Sharma, Janet Oates and Philip Jones. No news on who, besides Ezra, is actually performing (although I’m reasonably sure that Jane de Florez will be singing her own material.)

A preview of Lawrence’s piece – and a few examples of previous songs from various contributors – are below…



 

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Another classical songwriter’s concert for February is here – this one’s a free admission event for anyone who’s got an early Tuesday afternoon available…

Borough New Music Series 5: Featured Composers, 20th February 2018

Borough New Music and 2021 Concerts present:
‘Featured Composers: Songwriters of 2018’
St. George the Martyr Church, Borough High Street, Borough, London, SE1 1JA, England
Tuesday 20 February 2018, 1.00pm
– free event – information here

Rasmus Zwicki and Robert Reid Allan (glockenspiel/melodica), Ben Smith (piano, glockenspiel/melodica), Siân Dicker (soprano), Mimi Doulton (soprano), Delphine Mégret (soprano) and Krystal Tunnicliffe (piano) are performing a set of songs composed over the last few years by contemporary composers born in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s (including Rasmus himself).

Programme:

Clare Elton – Escape
James Garner – Emily Dickinson Settings
Cecilia Livingston – Give Me Your Hand
Oscar Ridout – Élévation
Mo Zhao – Just Watching
Rasmus Zwicki – Fly Little Birdy

A couple of tastes…

 
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The above is part of Series 5, the latest set of lunchtime concerts from south London New Music promoters Borough New Music covering new and rarely-performed contemporary pieces. For part of this season, Borough Music have teamed up with 2021 Concerts (Mimi Doulton and fellow soprano Patricia Auchterlonie’s own concert series) for several performances focussing on the human voice, sometimes in odd combinations and juxtapositions with other instruments.

Mimi herself makes another appearance in the series, performing a series of vocal/song-pieces, one of which – Alex Gowan-Webster’s ‘Cantio Invocatione’ – is a world premiere. The rest, dating from the late 1970s to the late noughties (Judith Weir’s ‘King Harald’s Saga’, Stephen Barchan’s ‘Two Songs About Spiders’, Elliott Carter’s ‘La Musique’, Georges Aperghis’ ‘Récitations 1 & 8’ and Oliver Knussen’s ‘Four Late Poems and an Epigram of Rainer Maria Rilke’) are not.

Borough New Music and 2021 Concerts present:
‘Featured Instrument: The Voice’ (or “Focus: Solo Voice’)
St. George the Martyr Church, Borough High Street, Borough, London, SE1 1JA, England
Tuesday 13 February 2018, 1.00pm
– free event – information here and here

Borough New Music Series 5: Featured Instrument: The Voice’ (or “Focus: Solo Voice’), 13th February 2018

Some previous examples of the songs in the set…





 
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Other events in Series 5 this month are:

As with the two other Series 5 events, these are both free and take place at St. George the Martyr at 1.00pm.
 

January 2018 – assorted English and Scottish gigs – piano, soul, art pop and verbiage with Society of Friends, Blert Ademi, Stone Deep and a host of poets at the SOIF Soiree (London, 5th); cutting an altfolkrock swathe with a Trembling-Bells-flavoured show by Orion’s Belt, Tom Slatter and Marcus Doo (Glasgow, 6th); experimental pop with Snails, Edward Penfold and Eugene Capper/Rhodri Brooks (Bristol, 13th)

1 Jan

Starting off the New Year, there’s a diverse brace of upcoming shows dotted around the country… In London, there’s the Society Of Imaginary Friends’ monthly musicians’n’poets soiree (this month, one that’s particularly heavy on the poets). In Glasgow, there’s a “feast of psych and folk wonderment” linking the folkworlds around Trembling Bells and Alasdair Robert with arch proggy steampunk songwriting. Down in Bristol, there’s “an evening of pop pleasures and wonky wonders.” Read on…

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Society of Imaginary Friends Soiree, 5th January 2018

Society of Imaginary Friends presents:
“For Those in Peril on the Sea” Soiree: Society of Imaginary Friends + Blert Ademi + Debra Watson + Stone Deep + Amy Neilson Smith + Ernie Burns + DJ Miracle Rhythm
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Friday 5th January 2018, 7.30pm
– free event – information here and here

From the Society:

“A still boat in a raging storm, our January Soiree – the month of cataclysmic cyclones battering our little island, foam fills the air, cool seagulls ride the tempest and the Society Of Imaginary Friends gather in their cabin around a crackling fire and tell stories of things past and things to come.

“We are joined by the fabulous young pianist Blert Ademi; brilliant, hard hitting poetess Debra Watson; new intriguing soul music from Stone Deep; charismatic performer, Shakespearian beauty and wonderful poetess Amy Neilson Smith; lusty, revealing super-wordsmith Ernie Burns; on the wheels of steel, the vinyl singles DJ extraordinaire DJ Miracle Rhythm; and the Society Of Imaginary Friends taking you back to a beautiful solstice evening in the Glastonbury Green Field. (More amazing performers to be announced – watch this space!) Cordon bleu vegan delights available to purchase from top chefs Kathy and Roger. Free entry. Dinner from 6pm, live performances start at 8pm.”

I couldn’t find anything on – or by – Stone Deep; but here’s a look at the rest of the lineup so far, beginning with an old SOIF track…






 
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A day later, there’s the Scottish event: a delightful, consensus-bucking meld of the credible, the incredible and the extramural.

Orions Belt + Tom Slatter + Marcus Doo, 6th January 2018

Orion’s Belt + Tom Slatter + Marcus Doo
Nice’n’Sleazy, 421 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, G2 3LG, Scotland
Saturday 6th January 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Headliners Orion’s Belt are a “seven-piece behemoth” of latterday Glasgow-via-Canterbury psychedelic folk, sometimes compared to “Kevin Ayers & The Whole World with Judy Collins handling the vocals”. They’re led by singer Lavinia Blackwall, best known as the voice of Trembling Bells but a longstanding mainstay of Glaswegian early music and avant-folk. Prior to their work as Trembling Bells, she and Alex Neilson collaborated as free-improv folkers Directing Hand: outside of the Bells they still sing together (alongside Harry Campbell and Katy Cooper of Muldoon’s Picnic) as four-part a capella voice quartet Crying Lion, who blend madrigal, folk, Gregorian and Sacred Harp elements into original songs.

In comparison, Orion’s Belt sounds like one of Lavinia’s more easy-going projects but ought to be magical nonetheless. Also on board in the band, picked from Glasgow’s gutsier psych, prog and folk underground, are members of “ongoing sloth-themed rock opera” collective Sloth Metropolis, prog-folkers Big Hogg, and “neo-psychedelic ninjas” Helicon (plus perhaps a few more people from Trembling Bells). Sorry – it still seems to be too new to have generated any recordings or Youtubings yet, but as a compensation here’s Lavinia’s five-year-old version of Richard Farina’s ‘The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood’ performed with Maddy Prior, Thea Gilmore and the late Dave Swarbrick.


 
Originally with mid-noughties post-rockers Ancient Monsters, Highland-born singer-songwriter Marcus Doo has since made the transition to modern-day folk; initially with his own Spanish-based Secret Family, who explored the genre via their “Magpie Returned the Ring” album and scores for a Spanish Royal Theatre version of Ted Hughes’ ‘Gaudete’ and for Chema Rodríguez’s ‘Anochece en la India’. He’s been described by author Graeme Macrae Burnet as “a songwriter with a rare mastery of both melody and lyrics… his songs are satisfying as a rounded pebble in your hand, and he performs them with such passion and intensity that I would defy anyone not to be moved.” Since his 2015 return to Glasgow, Marcus has been working with sympathetic figures including Alasdair Roberts (with whom he’s recently toured), Alex Neilson and Mike Hastings of Trembling Bells, and Tom Davis of Big Hogg.

All of the latter appear on Marcus’ debut solo effort ‘Kid Wonder’, a loosely conceptual folk album about “an older man looking back at his life, towards death and in search of any Golden Apple (an old Norse emblem of eternal youth) of memory that may help him accept what has gone and what is about to come. Through various adventures to an ever-clearer destination he is emboldened by memories of places and people past, and gives thanks to them.” Other contributors to the record include Trembling Bells’ Valinia Black, various other members of the Doo family (including Marcus’ recently deceased grandfather), France-based flamenco-ist Genaro Alonso and Clova fiddler Aoife McGarrigle.

To have a listen to ‘Kid Wonder’ you’ll need to visit Marcus’ own music page, but here’s another substitute in the shape of an old Secret Family track.


 
In the middle of the bill is sardonic London bard-of-the-fantastical Tom Slatter, whose reliably arch and intricate songbook of weird-fiction songstories (steampunk murders, tentacled monstrosities running amok) has built up across a string of theatrical albums and EPs since the early noughties. Hailed for “epic tales of darkness and light (which) fuse the bile of Roy Harper with humour and a sharp musical mind”, he’s previously delivered them live via a single strummed acoustic guitar, but is now generally accompanied by electric guitarist Gareth Cole. Here’s the video for a particular bit of 2015 Slatter tentaculation:


 
In case you think that Tom sounds like an odd, forced fit in the midst of this sincere Scottish folk stew – and it’s fair to admit that a man who calls his own concert album ‘Live, Discomfiting and Overly Whimsical’ might be bringing the hurt down on himself – it’s worth remembering that (in between the Lovecraft/Sterling/GameCon rampages) his catalogue features scattered, glowing moments of unguarded psychedelic beauty such as the ‘Earthbound’ single. On top of that, Tom’s most recent solo album – last year’s ‘Happy People‘ – took an unexpected sideswerve away from the monster galleries, the top hats and the cog-driven toy theatres into a much more nuanced consideration of the human condition. Tom probably wouldn’t thank me for pointing this out, mind; and if you’re solidly unconvinced, come along and heckle him anyway. By many accounts, he loves a good heckle, especially if topped off by a dose of cunning wordplay.

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Snails + Edward Penfold + Eugene Capper & Rhodri Brooks, 13th January 2018

Pop Or Not Promotions and Undergrowth present:
Pop/Not: Snails, Edward Penfold, Eugene Capper & Rhodri Brooks
Cube Microplex, Dove Street South (off top-left of King Square), Kingsdown, Bristol, BS2 8JD, England
Saturday 13th January 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

In the Cube Microplex (the squirreled-away Bristol theatre-turned-cinema/venue which recently hosted a rollicking showing of Cardiacs’ ‘Mare’s Nest’ concert film plus The Scaramanga Six), there are some more workings along the pop fringe. Over to the promoters…

“Led by songwriter Dan Weltman and described as “eerie, beautiful, modestly majestic” by Stephen McRobbie of The Pastels, five-piece experimental pop band Snails generate moments of suburban guitar pop reverie for lonely people walking to the shops. Their sound bears the influence of ’60s folk and psychedelia with a peppering of ’90s pop. Mavericks such as Syd Barrett and Nico mingle with the likes of the Gorky’s or even Belle and Sebastian; though, having no desire to recreate the past, Snails sensitively combine a passion for classic sounds with inventive songwritting to create their own heartfelt pop music. For this unique Bristol show they will be playing brand new material from their upcoming second LP.


 
Edward Penfold’s music is a blend of the old and the new, nostalgic but not dated. More than anything it sounds like now. It’s music from the heart – a hazy collection of sounds and moods, sometimes upbeat, sometimes down, but always genuine and always captivating. His lyricism reflects the eloquence and observation of a very English sort of poetry, seeing the depth in the shallows of life, the profundity in the mundane; all accepted with a matter-of-factness that is reflected in the driving impetus in every song, whether slow or fast or groovy. His new album ‘Denny Island Drive’ came out in late November 2017.


 
“After two years of ongoing collaboration and development, Cardiff twosome Eugene Capper and Rhodri Brooks have just released their beautiful debut LP ‘Pontvane’. Individually, both Capper and Brooks have developed back catalogues of diverse musicality and influence, incorporating elements of surf, lo-fi, Americana and psych. Their first release as a duo further emphasises this eclecticism, effortlessly stitching together disparate sonic fragments into a cohesive, compelling whole. Take a listen…”

 

November 2017 – Cosmo Sheldrake’s new album news and European mini-tour (17th-30th November) including an appearance by Jenny Moore’s Mystic Business

11 Nov

Cosmo Sheldrake, 2017

Fresh off a September tour with ex-Bombay Bicycle Club frontman Mr Jukes (and an October one with actor-folkie Johnny Flynn and Holly Holden Y Su Banda), one-man experimental pop orchestra Cosmo Sheldrake is finally gearing up to release his debut album. He’s celebrating with an entirely premature string of headlining dates in England, Germany, France and Switzerland during the second half of November.

They’re only premature in that the album’s still at least a season away, but why stop when you’re on a roll? “Am soooooo happy to announce my debut album ‘The Much Much How How And I’ is finished… it has been a very long time coming. Three years in the making! I’m very excited and can’t wait to have it out in the world.” Though this isn’t happening until 6th April 2018 (on the Transgressive label), pre-orders are here if you’re already intrigued – and meanwhile, you can take a peek at the hilarious, macabre Josh Allott-directed video for one of the tracks, Come Along, which “explores the experience of both having head lice and being a head louse. Microscopic worlds expand and consume the world of the large. Human heads become continents, scalps become landscapes, salons become solar systems. Come along now.”


 

With its skewed but loosely unified focus on nature, myth, science and intuition, both song and video are typical of Cosmo’s work – an generous and omnivorous corpus enveloping traditional folk and glitch mashups; hipster chic and novelty records; Bjork, Bobby McFerrin and the Fariñas; process music, Partch and prog; rhymes, reels and street parties; old Lomax recordings, beatboxing and Edward Lear. Cosmo himself is an extraordinary collagist and multi-instrumentalist whose roster includes thirty or so instruments (from guitar and piano to samplers, euphonium and duduk topped off with the distinct, lilting and mustardy twang of his vocals) and who’s spurred by a restless urge to reinvent anything he touches and any place that he plays. He’s been rumoured to pursue extinct animal recordings in order to get the noises and voices he wants, so not even death is an obstacle to curiosity. Of course, as one of the children of therapist and vocal shaman Jill Purce and of rebel biologist/parapsychologist Rupert Sheldrake, he’s long been growing in interesting soil. In many respects, it’s hardly surprising that he’s turned out the way he has.

As the further video clips below show, Cosmo is not someone whose talents and ideas are best contained by a support slot. It’s best to see him when he’s more in command of the evening, even if he’s just up on a little stage somewhere rather than out there subverting a swimming pool or model village, capering in front of a brass band or preparing to keelhaul an accordion.






 
Here are the live dates:

Fresh news in for the London gig – as well as a DJ set from Gentle Mystics (like Cosmo, unpeggable underground everything-ists whose own records yaw wickedly and knowingly between Balkan folk, Brit-hop, 2 Tone, Eartha Kitt and occasional world/prog/folk re-arrangements of Stravinsky), there’ll be support via a performance of Jenny Moore‘s ‘Mystic Business’, emphasing just how far Cosmoworld stretches from the average pop show. A member of drum-heavy art/femme/punk/party trio Charismatic Megafauna, Jenny works across a variety of performance art fields from radio show to performance installations, turning up live investigations of artistic responsibility, sexual “humanifestos“, proposals for rock operas and more.

‘Mystic Business’ is one such project: originally a set of communal workshopped songs for percussion and voices which explore and shows off a range of expressio. These range from single-voice-and-slapped-thigh rap to involved group-drumming chorales and minimalist loft-music singalongs (like post-Riot grrrl echoes of Philip Glass and Arthur Russell). Topics explored include body politics, doubts/immediacy/questioning, ripples of revolt, premature ejaculation and marimba-assisted paeans to feminist science fiction hentai. See below for a five-minute excerpt (a kind of post-structuralist spiritual/canon) and for the full forty-two minute version. I’ve no idea how this might work in the more structured context of a formal gig, but I’m sure that Jenny will come up with a new twist.

 

November 2017 – upcoming London classical gigs – the 20th London New Wind Festival including Giorgio Coslovich and Michiko Shimanuki premieres (17th); Daniel Okulitch, Lucy Schaufer and Kim Criswell join an evening of the songs of Glen Roven (22nd November)

10 Nov

London New Wind Festival, 17th November 2017

Every Sunday on Oxford Street a bland corporate doorway disgorges a full Salvation Army wind band which, rain or shine, tramps up and down past the shoppers, playing hymns on busy corners or (at Christmastime) adding a numinous aural glow to the grandeur of Selfridges storefront. Should you choose to sneak inside the same door, you’ll find yourself in Regent Hall, a five-hundred-and-fifty seat venue, once a Victorian rollerskating rink but subsequently transformed by Sally Army founder William Booth into a worship hall. It’s one of central London’s hidden-away concert glories, much like the splendid Bolivar Hall tucked away at the Venezuelan Embassy ten minutes northwards (which you’re only likely to have heard of if invited to a Latin American event).

London New Wind Festival, 17th November 2017I’ve only recently discovered that Regent Hall hosts the annual London New Wind Festival, directed by oboeist and composer Catherine Pluygers, and that the 2017 concert takes place next Friday. The evening sports a double-quintet ensemble of Simon Desorgher and Gavin Morrison (flutes), Judy Proctor and Catherine Pluygers (oboes), Phil Edwards and Ian Mitchell (clarinets), Henryk Sienkiewicz and Gillian Jones (horns), Glyn Williams and Anna Feild (bassoons) plus pianist Robert Coleridge and conductor David Sutton-Anderson; promising “a concert in our usual style… a varied and memorable programme of new music with focus on wind symphony orchestras, brass ensembles, new music by women composers and improvisation.”

The concert notes add “as is our trademark, we are presenting an exciting concert of new pieces especially written for double wind quintet (ten wind players) as well as piano and electronics, composed in a huge variety of styles ranging from the edgy ‘Rape Of The Moone’ by Elisabeth Lutyens (for eight wind instruments), and the mobile ‘Shadow Play’ (for flute and clarinet) by George Nicholson, to the atmospheric ‘Windchanges’ (for ten wind instruments) by Michael Christie and the dynamic ’Metropolis’ (for all eleven players and electronics) by Catherine Pluygers.”

Full programme:

George Nicholson – Shadow Play for Flute and Clarinet
Giorgio Coslovich – A Winter’s Tale (world premiere)
Michiko Shimanuki – Ordinary Things in My Garden (world premiere)
David Sutton-Anderson – Nachtritt
Elisabeth Lutyens – Rape of the Moone (Op.90)
Catherine Pluygers – Metropolis
Michael Christie – Windchanges
Paul Patterson – Phoenix Sonata (2nd movement) for oboe and piano

London New Wind Festival, The Hinrichsen Foundation, Holst Foundation & the Performing Rights Society present:
The 20th London New Wind Festival
Regent Hall, Salvation Army, 275 Oxford Street, London, W1C 2DJ, England
Friday 17th November 2017, 7.30pm
information

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With his roots and his heart in Broadway (where he debuted as a musical director at the tender age of nineteen), recognition which includes four Emmy Awards, and skills that span piano, composing, lyric-writing, conducting, opera translation and producing, Glen Roven is pretty much the complete musician.

This is particularly true if you start by looking at things through the rosy lens of adult contemporary music. Glen’s a globetrotting polymath of those spangled and sometimes self-regarding spheres within which Presidential inaugurations and all-star galas, light and heavy concert music blend with tuxedo-donning pop stars, power brokers and opera premieres. His adventures include writing a musical with Armistead Maupin, conducting high-profile live Steven Spielberg extravaganzas and Leonard Bernstein tributes, and leading orchestras for (among others) Sinatra, Domingo, Sammy Davis Jr and Kermit the Frog.

Yet for all of the pops-gala glitz that can surround Glen, he’s also deeply embedded in the formal classical world, translating Mahler, Schubert and Mozart and generating prolific amounts of his own original work – notably, thirty-five different song cycles which have worked their way into repertoire around the world). In part, he’s the deliverer of a kind of sumptuous, sugarplum American classical – deceptively complex and with a shrewd mind brought to bear on its audience, bridging the inclusive easy-listening dynamics of pop-orchestral and classical fusion with the edgier harmonic depth of unsublimated modern music. He’s arguably best known these days for his adaptations of classic children’s narratives ‘The Runaway Bunny’ and ‘Goodnight Moon’, both of which are latterday successors to the likes of Prokofiev’s ‘Peter and the Wolf’ and Don Gillis’ ‘The Man Who Invented Music’ (and, all right, Kleinsinger and Tripp’s ‘Tubby the Tuba’) – accessible and dramatic music full of colours, moods and ready universal emotion: functioning both as stepping stones into a wider classical world and as witty, heartfelt works in their own right. On a harder note, his taut and emotional contributions to ‘The AIDS Quilt Songbook’ project suggest a man who’s anything but lost in showbiz.

The Music of Glen Roven, 22nd November 2017If you fancy an up-close London evening in which Glen himself pares his work down to its greatest simplicity and directness – just his own piano plus three leading singers from classical and musical theatre – you’ve got a chance to attend one. At Waterloo’s 1901 Arts Club, Glen will be joined by Canadian bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch (soon to be seen in the world premiere of Nico Muhly’s ‘Marnie’ at English National Opera), and international mezzo sopranos Lucy Schaufer and Kim Criswell for various UK premiere performances, including a world premiere.

Jonathan Blalock & Tintagel Music present:
Kim Criswell, Daniel Okulitch and Lucy Schaufer sing The Music Of Glen Roven
1901 Club, 7 Exton Street, Waterloo, London, SE1 8UE, England
Wednesday 22nd November 2017, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Programme:

Two Songs by Edna St. Vincent Millay (Love Is Not Love, An Ancient Gesture) (performed by Lucy Schaufer) (UK premiere)
Saraband from ‘Symphony No.2’ (performed by Glen Roven) (world premiere)
Songs from the Underground (performed by Daniel Okulitch) (UK premiere)
The Hillary Speeches (performed by Kim Criswell) (UK premiere)
Goodnight Moon (performed by Daniel Okulitch) (UK premiere)

For examples I’ll leave you with performances of ‘Goodnight Moon’ in its full orchestral/soprano version, a Roven Yeats setting and the AIDS Quilt piece ‘Retro’ (the latter two sung by Daniel Okulitch) plus a hour-long interview with Glen himself, which ought to throw his work into a more detailed light as well as displaying his own confident, breezy pragmatism about his method and motives (pragmatic enough to make most of my critical hopscotching above a little redundant).

 

October 2017 – upcoming London gigs – art pop and stories from Tom O.C Wilson, Eley Williams and Kept Cairns (22nd October); holy electro-noise folk and beats from Jarboe, Father Murphy and Metalogue (23rd October)

17 Oct

Tom O.C. Wilson, 22nd October 2017

Pickled Egg Records presents:
Tom O.C Wilson + Eley Williams + Beetles
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Sunday 22nd October 2017, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Until recently operating as Freeze Puppy, Tom O.C. Wilson is now venturing out under his own name with ever-more-intricate and compositionally complex conversational songs, venturing into hitherto unexplored territory between (to pick a few loose examples) Stephen Sondheim, Frank Zappa, Neil Hannon, Django Bates and The Carpenters.

‘Tell A Friend’ – his debut album as himself – is “lovingly crafted, infectiously playful arthouse pop… a frothy, colourful twelve-song collection that pushes the raw materials of pop into dazzlingly surprising shapes, from the polyrhythmic fervour of Give Yourself Some Credit to the Steve Reich-meets-Motown stomp of The Ones. Yet as with similarly cerebrally-minded pop acts such as Field Music, Max Tundra and Dutch Uncles, the intricacy of the music is coupled with an unusually high hooks per-minute quotient — these are songs to sing along to as much as ponder.” While previous records have revelled in a certain literary playfulness, each song on this one is based on Tom’s own life and friendships. It’s in keeping with Tom’s decision not to hide behind kooky project names any longer: he’s never likely to create a standard-issue confessional album, but this is explicitly “a celebration of human interaction” in all its richness. Judging by the tone of start-up single The Ones, it’s predominantly positive.

Tom was originally providing his own support as half of his other band Beetles, but they’ve had to pull out. Fortunately, a more-than-worthy replacement’s been found in the shape of singer-songwriter Kept Cairns, a mysterious pseudonymous friend and fellow traveller from Tom’s Bristol days. His songs (which he himself describes as “gradually accret(ing)” rather than being written) “sketch and explore the unseen world of interiority: mental health, transcendence, relationship breakdown, the limits of communication, ambiguity, time and love.” Generally that’s a recipe for broken-handed strumming and murky lo-fi mumbles; so it’s surprising to find percussive, intricate acoustic guitarwork (recalling Michael Hedges and John Martyn) and carefully-drawn lyrics and vocal lines as crisp as new book pages (detailing complicated and frequently unresolved situations but describing them with an immaculate grace and economy). To see what I mean, you’ll need to take a trip over to his music page: bar a quiet presence on Spotify, he’s so far underground that gigs like these are the only other chance to get the measure of him.

Appropriately for an evening of literary pop, the middle act on the bill is a writer. Eley Williams is an acclaimed prose-poet of confusions, mental transformations and fairytales whose stories sweep across their settings like an investigating light passed over text. Here she is in action:

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The following day, Chaos Theory will be vibrating the rafters as they take over St Pancras Old Church and shake out its more shadowy corners for a particularly ambitious gig. Expect an evening of dark drones and noises, Euro-American cloister-folk and cinematic/industrial music textures, filled with dark-refracted Catholicism and a decidedly ecclesiastical tone.

Jarboe + Father Murphy + Metalogue, 23rd October 2017Chaos Theory Promotions presents:
Jarboe + Father Murphy + Metalogue
St Pancras Old Church, Pancras Road, Camden Town, London, NW1 1UL, England
Monday 23rd October 2017, 8.00pm
-information here and here

From the Chaos Theory blurb:

“Original Swans member Jarboe joins forces with Italian occult propagators of insight-through-terror Father Murphy, as they perform a single set in three parts. Father Murphy will open with their avant-garde dark creations, to be joined by Jarboe to perform their new collaborative EP (which came out on Consouling Sounds on 22nd September). Jarboe will then perform her own material, with Father Murphy providing their own twist to her sounds as her backing band.

“Ambient darkness will be provided before and after the performance by producer Metalogue, who will create a whole new set for the evening and release it as a new album. This will be an experience like no other.”




 

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

7 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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


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

Dates:

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

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


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

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


 

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

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


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

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